Attending the March on Washington in 1963, my first political act as a new adult to support one of the great events in the history of the civil rights movement, I resolved not to just listen and hope for a better time. A friend there on the Mall recommended that I join the Student Non- Violent Coordinating Committee. I'd already heard of it, since one of its founders was a high school classmate. On return to Berkeley, I found the local SNCC group (called Friends of SNCC).
I wanted to contribute something that would reflect my status as a student. "A Statement In Support of S.N.C.C," in the Daily Cal to call attention to prevalent injustice and to SNCC seemed like a first step. The Friends' leader [Betty Garman (later: Robinson)] suggested I seek professors to sign it, to show that it wasn't only students who were concerned about civil rights.
I wrote the statement and took it to professors I knew in the Political Science and History Departments. I asked them to name others I should approach. Since time felt short, I stopped my rounds with the group now memorialized on the statement. Although all were enthusiastic, I remember one comment from Professor Blackwell. I didn't know before I went to his office that he was the only African American professor on the UC Berkeley campus in that era. He greeted me with: "What took you so long?"
The Free Speech Movement erupted in the fall of 1964, after I graduated. When I returned to UC-Berkeley for graduate school, it enabled my actions to organize with my future colleagues to protest the Vietnam War. Our Dean did not want anti-war protests emanating from his school. Thanks to new rules generated by the FSM to protect students' First Amendment rights to free speech, we were able to proceed.
Lucy Halpern Johns
BA UC-Berkeley 1964
Copyright © Lucy Johns, 2020
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