Hal Draper


Berkeley: The New Student Revolt


5. The Power Structure Triggers the Conflict

The storm was brewing from another quarter.

This is the place to make clear that one would be wrong to conclude from the preceding history that President Kerr himself had any dislike for “controversial” speeches, student political activity, or “free speech.” [1*] On the contrary; he is, after all, a kind of liberal. When he writes his eloquent addresses about not making “ideas safe for students, but students safe for ideas,” etc., he means every word of it. It is a Great Ideal, and he firmly believes it should be talked about on every possible ceremonial occasion.

But Kerr is sensitive to the real relations between Ideals and Power in our society. Ideals are what you are for, inside your skull, while your knees are bowing to Power. This is not cynicism to Kerr; he has a theory about the role of the Multiversity president as a mediator among Powers. It is no part of a mediator’s task to dress up as Galahad and break a lance against dragons. In fact, if a Galahad does show up, he may only be an annoyance to the mediator, since this introduces a third, complicating party to the dispute between the dragon and his prey.

The students’ onslaught against HUAC had stirred up dragons – forked-tongue monsters from Birchites to Republican assemblymen – breathing fire against the university authorities who were “protecting” all those “Communist” students. Holding the fort against these made one feel like a courageous liberal; and if a Professor Searle was going to take up the lance, he would only enrage the animals – slap him down.

In 1963 and 1964, from the viewpoint of the University mediator, a frightening thing was happening: there was a growing movement on campus devoted to systematically provoking and stirring up every dragon within fifty miles. This was the civil-rights movement.

The Friends of SNCC were collecting money for Mississippi project workers. But Campus CORE and Berkeley CORE were engaged in local projects: for example, picketing and signing fair-hiring agreements with the Shattuck Avenue (central Berkeley) merchants, and with Telegraph Avenue. (campus district) businessmen. Then there was the Ad Hoc Committee to End Discrimination, not a campus group but supported by many students.

In November 1963 came the first mass-picketing of a commercial firm charged with discrimination in hiring, Mel’s Drive-In restaurants on both sides of the bay. Many university students were involved when police arrested 111 in San Francisco. Berkeley CORE engaged in Christmas picketing of campus-district stores. In February, Campus CORE (formed the previous September) took on the local branch of Lucky Supermarkets, as part of an area-wide campaign against the store chain, using a new tactic, the “shop-in.” The company signed an agreement. Then a series of picket lines at San Francisco’s Sheraton-Palace Hotel, marked by over 120 arrests (about half of them U.C. students), culminated on March 8 in a picket line of 2000 and a lobby sit-in. Of the 767 demonstrators arrested for blocking the lobby, 100 were U.C. students. The Hotel Owners’ Association signed an agreement. Later the same month, anti-discrimination picketing began at the city Cadillac agency (100 arrests, about 20 from U.C.) and eventually spread to other Auto Row agencies (another 226 arrests). The courts were jammed with cases; some got jail sentences and fines. In June, Campus CORE sponsored a sit-in at the US District Attorney’s office to dramatize federal inaction on the Mississippi murders, and the demonstrators were forcibly carried out. Bay Area CORE started preparing for an assault even on the octopodous Bank of America.

Then, on September 4, the Ad Hoc Committee launched a picket line against one of the biggest dragons of all, the Oakland Tribune, run by William Knowland, Goldwater’s state manager, a kingpin in the entire power structure of the East Bay, especially Alameda County (which includes Berkeley).

It was clearly inevitable that a civil-rights movement which sought to erase all discrimination in hiring would come squarely up against the power structure of the Bay Area. Of the various civil-rights groups in the area, only Campus CORE and Friends of SNCC were university clubs, but a big action, especially if it were militant, could count on a good part of the “troops” coming from the campus.

That summer, the picture was complicated by another factor. The Republican convention was going to meet in San Francisco: Goldwater versus the “moderates” Lodge, Scranton and Rockefeller. For the first time within man’s memory, the Berkeley campus became a hotbed of political activity not only by radicals but also by conservative students. Supporters of the various GOP contenders began to organize for work at the convention. Campus CORE also organized an anti-Goldwater demonstration at the Cow Palace.

Some time in July, a reporter for the Oakland Tribune (which was boosting Goldwater, of course) noted that pro-Scranton students were recruiting convention workers at a table placed at the Bancroft entrance to the campus, the then-regular place for this type of activity. It appears that he, or someone else from the Tribune, pointed out to the administration that the table was on university property and violated its rules. An official report by Chancellor Strong [2*] later admitted that “The situation [regarding political activity at Bancroft] was brought to a head by the multiplied activity incidental to the primary election, the Republican convention, and the forthcoming fall elections,” and that administration officials began taking up the question on July 22 and 29.

But Strong himself was out of town till early August and nothing was done. Then on September 2 the Ad Hoc Committee announced it would picket the Oakland Tribune. On the 3rd the Tribune appeared with a front-page Statement personally signed by William Knowland, denouncing the move. On the 4th, the picketing started. The same day the Berkeley administration again took up the question of campus political activity, for the first time since July 29 (according to the dates given in Strong’s report).

Flat statements that the crisis was originally touched off by Goldwaterite complaints against pro-Scranton recruitment appeared later both in the Hearst daily, the S.F. Examiner, of December 4, and in the S.F. Chronicle of October 3 and December 4. Two affidavits by students were later sworn out stating that, in September, Chancellor Strong told a number of people at a campus meeting that the Oakland Tribune had phoned him to ask whether he was aware that the Tribune picketing was being organized on university property, i.e., at the Bancroft entrance.

According to this account, then, it was the Goldwaterite forces of Knowland’s Tribune who put the administration on the spot with respect to the toleration of political activities at the Bancroft sidewalk strip. Strong’s official report admits that some, though not all, of the campus officers did know right along that this strip was university property, not city property, but that up to this time they “considered no acts to be necessary.”

Now action was demanded. Knowland, who was not much of an idealist but was very much of a Power, was on the administration’s neck, and something had to be done. An extra urgency was added by the fact that the university was very anxious that a bond issue (Proposition 2) be passed at the November 3 election; it wanted no anti-university publicity which might turn votes against it, let alone a press campaign led by the Tribune.

The outside pressures were mounting. Many believe that the Bank of America also had a hand in the pressure, but the bank’s president, Jesse Tapp, was also one of the most important members of the Board of Regents, and any pressure he chose to apply or amplify need not have been exerted from the outside.

One of the most unique features of the Berkeley student revolt is that from its beginning to its climax it was linked closely to the social and political issues and forces of the bigger society outside the campus. At every step the threads ran plainly to every facet of the social system: there were overt roles played by big business, politicians, government leaders, labor, the press, etc. as well as the Academy itself. This was no conflict in the cloister.



1*. Throughout this account, “free speech” (in quotation marks) is used as a shorthand term for the range of student demands on freedom of political activity and social action, as well as free speech in the narrow sense.

2*. His report (mimeo.) to the Academic Senate, dated October 26, 1964.


Last updated on 27.8.2006