When crowds marched on Sproul Hall in the 1960s and demanded the university honor free speech, alumnus Stephen Silberstein wasn't among them. But decades later, he can't forget those times -- and doesn't want you to, either.
"There were thousands of people," he said. "It was a defining moment over a principle of truth and justice."
And soon, in a little cafe beside Berkeley's undergraduate library, thanks to a gift from Silberstein, students will once again sip coffee, lean across little tables and talk about the causes and dreams that define their own hour.
Or so Silberstein hopes. His recent gift of $3.5 million will fund Berkeley's new Free Speech Cafe, a digitized archive on the movement and, primarily, other library collections.
Berkeley's Free Speech Movement began when police arrested 24-year-old Jack Weinberg, who had set up an unauthorized Congress on Racial Equality table on Sproul Plaza.
Coming to his aid, masses of students blocked the path of the police car with Weinberg inside, leaving the vehicle stranded. Its roof became the perfect platform from which Mario Savio and fellow students eloquently acclaimed rights to free expression. Just months later, as the movement fomented, a student sit-in resulted in the largest mass arrest in California history. Only when the faculty stepped forward to support the students did the university reluctantly agree to grant free speech.
"Many younger people don't know about the big events that happened at Berkeley," said Silberstein. "Their parents tell them about it, but then they look around and say there are no signs of it here."
With its name in lights, the free speech cafe should be a handy reminder.
Savio's son, Nadav, spoke at an April 29 press conference announcing the cafe and said he is pleased it will be a place where students can organize "to confront injustices which persist."
"I am pleased as well, perhaps more so, for a personal reason," said Nadav Savio. "I spent many hours in cafes with my dad. In fact, some of the best times we spent together (were) talking over coffee, hashing out differences, exploring ideas."
by Kathleen Scalise
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