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Politics and Protest: Collections from The Bancroft Library

Overview of Collections

The University Archives at The Bancroft Library documents the history of the University of California, holding the official records of the Berkeley campus and the UC system. In addition, the University Archives collects faculty papers, records of campus organizations, and all matter of ephemera gathered from Sproul Plaza and Sather Gate. These archival materials illuminate campus life, academic and administrative activity, faculty governance, research and teaching, student activities, and the great social protest movements that swept campus.

For information and resources specifically for the People's Park conflict, please visit the People's Park LibGuide.

Women at Cal

Although the UC Regents decreed in 1870 that "ladies" should be admitted "on equal terms in all respects with young men," women at UC Berkeley, in comparison with their male counterparts, had limited access to the campus's intellectual, social, recreational, housing, and athletic resources. From the beginning of their inclusion to academics, leadership, and life at UC Berkeley, women fought continuously and tirelessly for their rights and representation. In 1910, the Associated Women Students (AWS) petitioned the faculty for permission to establish the Women's Student Affairs Committee. Until then, disciplinary cases for women had been heard by the dean of women or the faculty. Winning approval, this new committee allowed undergraduate women students themselves to decide the fates of their female peers. The 1960s and 1970s saw the rise of the Women's Liberation movement that called for seeking greater personal freedom for women and fighting for their political, employment, sexual, and reproductive rights. In 1972, the federal civil rights law Title IX, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex in education, granted women equal opportunity to participate in athletics, and addressed inequities in curricula and facilities. UC Berkeley's Women's Studies Program was founded in 1976, bringing scholars from many different disciplines together to introduce the subject of women into serious academic inquiry, finally becoming a department in 1991.

UC Berkeley An Introduction to Female Liberation

An Introduction to Female Liberation meeting flier
Image citation: Social protest collection, BANC MSS 86/157, Carton 7, Folder 24, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

Academic Freedom and the Loyalty Oath

The concept of Academic Freedom was made into University policy as University Regulation No.5, stating the following:

"The University respects personal belief as the private concern of the individual. It equally respects the constitutional rights of the citizen. It insists only that its members, as individuals and as citizens, shall likewise always respect - and not exploit, their University connection."

This ideal was first put to the test during the Loyalty Oath controversy. In 1949, the Board of Regents of the University of California imposed a requirement that all University employees sign an oath affirming not only loyalty to the state constitution, but a denial of membership or belief in organizations (including communist ones) advocating overthrow of the United States government. Many faculty, students, and employees resisted the oath for violating principles of shared governance, academic freedom, and tenure. In summer 1950, thirty-one professors and many other UC employees were dismissed solely for not signing the oath, without any charges of unprofessional conduct or personal disloyalty. To complicate matters, California Governor Earl Warren put in place the Levering Act later that fall, requiring all state employees to subscribe to a state-wide loyalty oath that specifically disavowed radical beliefs. The California Supreme Court declared the University of California loyalty oath unconstitutional in 1952 and the Levering Act unconstitutional in 1967.

Loyalty Oath protest meeting at the Greek Theater

Loyalty Oath protest meeting at the Greek Theater
Image citation: The San Francisco News-Call Bulletin newspaper photograph archive: Part 2, BANC PIC 1959.010--NEG, Part 2, Box 35, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement

UC Berkeley was one of the first campuses in the US to accommodate students with disabilities, and the activism of these students helped ignite a civil rights movement that led to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and continues to shape policy today. In 1956, Edward V. Roberts became the first student with a severe mobility impairment to be admitted to UC Berkeley. To accommodate his respirator, Roberts lived in a ward of Cowell Memorial Hospital, the on-campus health center. By 1967, a total of seven severely physically disabled students were conducting their studies at UC Berkeley while living in Cowell. The Rolling Quads, the campus's first disabled students group, was formed in 1969 and proposed the formal establishment of services for students with disabilities at Cal. A year later, under the leadership of Roberts, they helped create the first comprehensive services for disabled students to obtain support for independent living on the campus, the Physically Disabled Students Program (PDSP). The program then expanded into the Berkeley community as the Center for Independent Living (CIL) in 1972. The principles of the independent living movement helped give people with all levels of ability, even the most severe, the choice of living in the community. They also advocated for the removal of architectural and transportation barriers that prevented people with disabilities from sharing fully in all aspects of society. These efforts led to the formation of the Coordinating Committee for the Removal of Architectural Barriers (CCRAB) to resolve access problems on the UC Berkeley campus, the first comprehensive survey of campus buildings' architectural accessibility, and the first full campus-wide self-evaluation, resulting in the UC Berkeley 504 Transition Plan. Recognizing the stigma of housing disabled students in the campus hospital, the Residence Program was moved to the Unit II residence halls, later finding a permanent home in the fully accessible and closer-to-campus Unit I. In 1982, the PDSP changed its name to the Disabled Students' Program (DSP) to include students with learning disabilities.

Susan O'Hara and students in front of UCB Disabled Students Program building

Susan O'Hara and students in front of the Disabled Students Program building
Image citation: Disabled Students' Program photograph collection, UARC PIC 28H, no.209, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley


In 1957, Ralph Schaffer, Fritjof Thygeson, and Rick White formed an ad hoc group of students, Towards an Active Student Community (TASC), to run for Associated Student University of California (ASUC) office. Their goal was to force discussion of socio-political issues, like racial discrimination, that affected both the campus and society at large. TASC also campaigned against apartheid in South Africa, the loyalty oath, and nuclear testing, and for free speech on campus. TASC was short-lived, but in late 1957, Cal senior Mike Miller called together a group of student leaders, including former members of TASC, and proposed they run as a "slate" for student government office. None of the "slate" was elected in fall 1957, but the group gained nearly 40 percent of the vote and contributed to increased voter turnout. SLATE was officially organized on February 5, 1958, and committed to run candidates for student office who would engage in issue-oriented political education, both on and off campus. SLATE campaigned for "fair bear" minimum wages and affordable housing for students, and led demonstrations against compulsory ROTC, the death penalty, the California House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and racial discrimination. They also worked to modify "Rule 17," which limited the free speech and political organizing of students on campus. SLATE became a model for similar campus political parties across the nation. The University administration routinely tried to diminish SLATE's popularity and political power on campus, and after repeated clashes, the administration revoked SLATE's status as a recognized student organization in June 1961. SLATE remained politically active, and its members played critical roles in the formation and life of the Free Speech Movement (FSM). SLATE came close to winning a majority in ASUC in spring 1965 but lost badly in the fall. In October 1966, SLATE held a meeting to officially dissolve the organization.

SLATE Platform

SLATE Platform
Image citation: Sather Gate handbills: protest literature distributed on the University of California, Berkeley campus, 308h.H24, Box 1, Folder Sept. 1965, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

Free Speech Movement

On October 1, 1964, former graduate student Jack Weinberg, a Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) activist, was arrested for running a CORE table in UC Berkeley's Sproul Plaza in defiance of a campus ban on student political activity under the direction of UC Chancellor Edward Strong. Police put Weinberg in a squad car, but before it could drive away hundreds of students surrounded the vehicle, trapping it in Sproul Plaza for the next thirty-two hours. Throughout the night and into the next day, activists, including graduate student Mario Savio, gave impassioned speeches from atop the car calling for free speech on campus until Weinberg was released under a compromise worked out between UC President Clark Kerr and the students. Three days later, the Free Speech Movement (FSM) was formed with the goal of gaining the right to free speech for student activists, and Mario Savio became its prominent leader and eloquent voice. Over the next months, the FSM had a running battle with the school administration, organizing rallies, marches, and petitions, culminating in the massive sit-in of Sproul Hall on December 2 where more than 1,500 students took over the building demanding an end to restrictions on political speech and action on campus. In the early hours of December 4, California Governor Edmund Brown authorized a mass arrest of the demonstrators, and more than 600 police officers, highway patrolmen, and Alameda County Sheriff's deputies descended on the building. More than eight hundred students, including Mario Savio, were roughly arrested, the largest mass arrest in California history at the time. A student strike then shut down the campus until the Faculty Academic Senate voted to endorse the FSM's central demand that the University regulate only the time, place, and manner of student political activity and make no regulations restricting the content of speech or advocacy. While the UC Regents did not fully accept the Academic Senate's proposal, they agreed that speech and advocacy would be protected on campus. At an emergency meeting on January 2, 1965, the UC Regents replaced Edward Strong with Martin Meyerson as acting chancellor. The next day, Meyerson delivered his first address to the campus community, announcing new provisional rules for political activity on the campus, designating the Sproul Hall steps as an open discussion area, and permitting tables on Sproul Plaza. The FSM disbanded in April 1965.

Mario Savio on top of police car addressing crowd in Sproul Plaza

Mario Savio on top of police car addressing crowd in Sproul Plaza
Image citation: Michael Rossman Free Speech Movement photographs, BANC PIC 2000.067, no.17, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

Third World Liberation Front

In spring 1968, the Afro-American Student Union (AASU) at UC Berkeley submitted a proposal for the creation of a Black Studies program with the hopes that it would eventually evolve into an autonomous department. On January 13, 1969, then Chancellor Roger Heyns and the UC Regents approved a watered-down Black Studies program, with a notable absence of African American student and staff membership on the implementing committee. The AASU rejected this revised proposal and joined forces with other ethnic-centered student groups on campus - the Mexican American Student Confederation (MASC), the Asian-American Political Alliance (AAPA), and the Native American Student Alliance (NASA). Together, under the banner of the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF), all the partners within the coalition hoped that, by organizing under a single united front, they could gain their own ethnic-focused programs. They demanded self-determination in education through the establishment of a Third World College, whose curriculum would be designed for, and taught by, people of color. The Third World College would incorporate departments with studies geared towards African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans, addressing the traditional Eurocentric education and incorporate into academia conversations on identity and oppression. The TWLF launched a student strike on January 22, 1969. What started as relatively small picket lines at campus entrances quickly expanded into huge serpentine bands of marchers, met with heavy response by law enforcement, and led to confrontations and arrests. The violence escalated, and with the urging of police and UC Berkeley administration, Governor Ronald Reagan declared a "state of extreme emergency" on February 5 and deployed the National Guard to quell the strikers on campus with mace and tear gas. On March 4, UC Berkeley's Faculty Senate voted overwhelmingly to establish the Ethnic Studies department, one of the first of its kind in the country, that housed the four undergraduate programs of African American Studies, Asian American Studies, Chicano Studies, and Native American Studies. Although its goal of forming a Third World College was not fully realized, the TWLF called an end to the strike. African American Studies would later become its own department in 1974.

Third World Liberation strike flier

Third World Liberation strike flier
Image citation: Social protest collection, BANC MSS 86/157, Carton 11, Folder 32, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

Gay Liberation Movement

Following the Stonewall Riots in New York during summer 1969, two new student organizations were formed on the UC Berkeley campus: Students for Gay Power and Gay Liberation Front. These two organizations were among the first gay liberation groups in the country, with the Gay Liberation Front being the more politically radical of the two. Though the campus's student body in general was still highly closeted, these groups attempted to create a safe space where gay people could mingle openly. They also led the first gay liberation demonstration on the Berkeley campus, calling for an end to the efforts of campus police to suppress homosexual activity within the environs of the Harmon Gymnasium (now known as Spieker Plaza). These student organizations fought to obtain workspace in Eshleman Hall, dealt with the student health service where counselors and psychiatrists still tended to treat homosexuality as a mental illness, addressed police harassment of gay students, and got the campus career center to adopt an anti-discrimination policy. In spring 1970, the Students for Gay Power changed their name to the Gay Students Union, and had begun to distance themselves from the Gay Liberation Front, pursuing a more moderate approach to social change. This group sponsored the campus's first openly gay dance, held in the Pauley Ballroom, on May 22, 1970.

Gay Student Union fier

Gay Student Union flier
Image citation: Social protest collection, BANC MSS 86/157, Carton 8, Folder 8, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

The Social Protest Collection

A highlight of The Bancroft Library collections, is the numerous leaflets, flyers, posters, publications, and handbills gathered by the Social Protest Project for the UC Undergraduate Library between 1969 and 1982. Altogether, these ephemeral materials comprise the Social Protest Collection and provide researchers a unique lens to view this tumultuous period of campus history. Primarily collected from tables and leafleteers in Sproul Plaza, they document a wide range of political and social protest movements, including civil rights, the Vietnam War, Black Power, the women's movement, LGBTQ rights, Third World issues, the Left and Right, campus labor disputes, the movement against nuclear power and nuclear weapons, and other political issues.

The Bancroft Library's University Archives has also collected such material, beginning in 1935, the bulk organized in the Sather Gate Handbills Collection with certain movements such as the Free Speech Movement, People's Park, Third World Liberation Strike, and Reconstitution of the Campus, cataloged separately.

Tables in front of Fountain in Sproul Plaza

Tables in Sproul Plaza
Image citation: Free Speech Movement photographs, BANC PIC 2000.002--NEG Strip 98:42, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley