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The Essential Mario Savio

Speeches and Writings that Changed America

Robert Cohen (Editor), Tom Hayden (Foreword), Robert Reich (Afterword by), Lynne Hollander Savio (Epilogue)

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Paperback, 320 pages
ISBN: 9780520283381
August 2014
$24.95, £18.95
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The Free Speech Movement in Berkeley, California, was pivotal in shaping 1960s America. Led by Mario Savio and other young veterans of the civil rights movement, student activists organized what was to that point the most tumultuous student rebellion in American history. Mass sit-ins, a nonviolent blockade around a police car, occupations of the campus administration building, and a student strike united thousands of students to champion the right of students to free speech and unrestricted political advocacy on campus.

This compendium of influential speeches and previously unknown writings offers insight into and perspective on the disruptive yet nonviolent civil disobedience tactics used by Savio. The Essential Mario Savio is the perfect introduction to an American icon and to one of the most important social movements of the post-war period in the United States.
List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Editor’s Note
Foreword
Tom Hayden
Introduction
1. The Making of a Berkeley Civil Rights Activist
2. Going South: Freedom Summer, 1964
3. Leading the Free Speech Movement: Protest and Negotiation, September–November 1964
4. “No Restrictions on the Content of Speech”: Savio and the FSM Win, December 1964
Coda
Afterword
Robert B. Reich
Epilogue
Lynne Hollander Savio
Notes
Bibliography
Index
Robert Cohen is Professor of History and Social Studies in New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. He is an affiliated member of NYU’s History Department. His books include Freedom’s Orator: Mario Savio and the Radical Legacy of the 1960s, The Free Speech Movement: Reflections on Berkeley in the 1960s (coedited with Reginald E. Zelnik), and Rebellion in Black and White: Southern Student Activism in the 1960s (coedited with David S. Snyder).

Tom Hayden is an American social and political activist, author, and politician. He was a founder of Students for a Democratic Society; the primary author of the SDS’s manifesto, the Port Huron Statement; and a member of the California State Legislature for eighteen years. He is director of the Peace and Justice Resource Center in Culver City, California.

Robert Reich was the U.S. Secretary of Labor in the Clinton adminstration. He is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.

Lynne Hollander Savio is a Free Speech Movement veteran who coauthored the Rossman Report. She is the widow of Mario Savio and heads the board of directors of the Mario Savio Memorial Lecture and Young Activist Award.
"This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the 1960s and how they changed American society. Insightfully contextualized by Robert Cohen, Mario Savio's letters and speeches chronicle the history of two key moments of that pivotal decade—the Mississippi Freedom Summer and the Berkeley Free Speech Movement—and reveal Savio as an activist and thinker who helped inject new meanings into the idea of American freedom."—Eric Foner, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, author of The Story of American Freedom

"Robert Cohen has performed invaluable service by collecting, annotating, and contextualizing the letters and speeches of Mario Savio, leader of the now iconic Free Speech Movement at Berkeley in 1964. The collection captures Savio’s extraordinary eloquence and tactical brilliance, as well as his mission to convert the Berkeley campus into a space that would allow free speech about politics as well as ideas. The book is a tribute to Berkeley’s role not just in launching the turbulent student protests of the 1960s, but in expanding the fundamental ideal of free speech, while also revealing some of the personal and institutional costs of the struggle."—Nicholas B. Dirks, Chancellor of the University of California

“This is an extremely important collection of primary materials from the youthful pondering of Mario Savio, a vitally important but little understood figure of the 1960s. The connections between activism in the South and activism on the Berkeley campus have never been more vividly expressed than in Savio’s own words.”—Paul Buhle, Brown University

"This powerful work deserves a wide reading. Mario Savio spoke with passion, clarity, and courage when he confronted injustice in Mississippi and again when he defied the suppression of free speech at the University of California. This well-edited introduction to the “essential” Savio is a boon to both scholarship and citizenship."—Lewis Perry, author of Civil Disobedience: An American Tradition

“Lucid and persuasive, Robert Cohen is a leading authority on the history of student activism in the United States, most particularly in the 1960s, and even more particularly, the events at UC Berkeley in the fall of 1964.”—Maurice Isserman, Publius Virgilius Rogers Professor of History at Hamilton College

1

The Making of a Berkeley Civil Rights Activist

For Mario Savio, college never represented a mere career track; it was part of a moral and intellectual quest, a path toward meaning and identity, a crucial part of what he called a "period of personal transition [that] revolved about [his] breaking away from the Catholic Church." At the behest of his parents, he had, as a star science student, accepted a scholarship in 1960 at a local Catholic institution, Manhattan College. Majoring in physics, his first act of intellectual rebellion grew out of his study of the classics, taking "a full year course in ancient history, literature, and philosophy," and using ancient Greek culture as a kind of counterculture that helped him move further away from the church. "I fell in love with the Greeks," Savio recalled, "because they represented a pre- and really a non-Christian culture. . . . For me Greek philosophy and literature provided a first vantage point from which to examine the Church critically."

After a year at Manhattan College, as another step away from the church, Savio transferred to Queens College, in the New York City College system, which he found attractive because its "secular, predominantly Jewish," liberal student body reminded him of the friends he had grown up with in Floral Park. Even though he left the church, he still was connected to its social action wing or, as he termed it, "Social Catholicism, which would culminate in the Second Vatican Council [that] was [then] approaching flood tide." And under its auspices, Savio took up his first venture in social activism, volunteering for antipoverty work in Taxco, Mexico, in the summer of 1963. This was part of what he called a "private peace corps project" initiated by the Newman House at Queens College-building a laundry facility and starting work on a school for the poor.

During this pre-Berkeley period, Savio was already drawn to the civil rights movement, which he saw as a meaningful alternative to the materialism, repressiveness, and boredom of the America he had grown up in during the 1950s. The movement's moral seriousness, its struggle for justice, left Savio "deeply impressed" when he first encountered its activists "on the nightly news." The black freedom movement would soon fill the void left by Savio's break with the church.

For me it [the freedom struggle] was in some ways a religious movement I could believe in. . . . I was not a careerist. I was someone who took good and evil exceptionally seriously. . . . I could have been a priest. And, suddenly there's the Civil Rights Movement. And since I'm breaking with the Church I see the Civil Rights Movement in religious terms. . . . [In the] Civil Rights Movement there were all those ministers; . . . it was just absolutely rife with ministers. And so to me, this was an example of God working in the world. . . . The spirit of "do good" and "resist evil" was an important part of my religious upbringing. I saw that present in the Civil Rights Movement-and I wanted to ally myself with that.

Savio's first in-person encounter with the civil rights movement occurred when he observed the picketing of a Woolworth's store in his Queens neighborhood. Even though the protest was nonviolent and "absolutely respectful, decorous," the protesters picketing the store were, in Savio's words, "behaving differently" than the conformist norms of the world in which he was raised.

You see, people in those days obeyed the rules. All the rules . . . that were written down . . . [and] a whole bunch of rules that weren't written down. . . . How you're supposed to dress. Everything was so rigid. . . . There was an internally imposed regimentation. . . . So just the idea of people walking around in a little oval in front of Woolworth's was massively non-conformist for the time. Something's going on here. That has to be seen against the background of absolutely day after day nothing going on. So it was attractive, because it was real. . . . I'd never seen anything like it before.

Savio later saw the civil rights movement as working with other strands in his intellectual and political development to ready him for an activist role at Berkeley: "The liberal Jewish culture of my high school friends, a deep encounter with the Greeks, and the opening acts in the civil rights drama were the three forces leading me away from home and toward Berkeley, already a center of activism in 1960."

When Savio transferred to UC Berkeley in the fall of 1963, drawn by its reputation for student activism, John F. Kennedy was president. But Savio was not impressed with JFK and looked not to the White House but to the streets and the civil rights movement for inspiration. Kennedy, in Savio's eyes, "failed . . . at crucial places . . . to connect with reality somehow. He wasn't leading. . . . He was the official leader, but he wasn't leading," and seemed more flash than substance. By contrast, "the Civil Rights Movement," as Savio put it, "wasn't flash. It wasn't a fake. It wasn't fantasy land. . . . The Civil Rights Movement was leading America," morally and politically, to an expanded and more inclusive vision of freedom.

Savio's first academic year at Berkeley (fall 1963-spring 1964) coincided with a surge in the Bay Area civil rights movement that he found "amazing." Hundreds of students would be arrested that year in protests against racially discriminatory employers, protests that, for the West Coast, seemed unprecedented in their size, frequency, and militancy. The dynamism of the Bay Area movement was obvious, and so was the role of Berkeley students in it. Berkeley had not one but two activist student groupings, which, despite their differences, cooperated with each other in leading major civil rights actions. Campus CORE was especially active and militant and had connections to the local black communities' CORE chapters. Leadership in Campus CORE tended to come from students in or close to UC Berkeley's Independent Socialist Club. Its main competitor was Berkeley's Communist-led W. E. B. Du Bois Club. The Communist Party had connections in the Bay Area's black communities, and Du Bois Club organizers used those to link Berkeley's predominantly white student activists with such black organizations as Youth for Jobs in Oakland and dynamic young African American civil rights activists such as Tracy Sims. Out of this collaboration came the Ad Hoc Committee to End Discrimination, the organization that coordinated student and black community protests against the Sheraton Palace Hotel and other racially discriminatory employers.

Berkeley's stores and San Francisco's auto dealers, restaurants, and hotels proved attractive targets for these protests, because all of these employers-facing little state and no federal governmental pressure to hire on a nondiscriminatory basis, since this was before the Civil Rights Act of 1964-had terrible records of employment discrimination. The U.S. Civil Rights Commission, for example, found that in 1960 less than 2 percent of the employees of downtown Berkeley's stores were African American. The few blacks hired tended to be relegated to the most menial, low-paying jobs. The Bay Area civil rights protests usually proved quite effective. When confronted with their hiring record by sustained protest, most of these businesses were forced to capitulate.

As a transfer student at Berkeley, it took a little time for Savio to get sufficiently settled. Living in a noisy student apartment building and attending large and impersonal lecture courses, Savio went through a rough transition to his new academic home that first month. In October, however, he made connections with the local activist community. Savio began "tentatively to walk the picket line" in protest against racially discriminatory hiring at Mel's Drive-In, even though he did not yet have friends in the movement. Nor did he know much about the protest other than the worthiness of its fair-hiring goals.

But by the middle of the fall semester, Savio had become more active with University Friends of SNCC, helping with its inner-city tutoring program. Savio later recalled that, for him, SNCC embodied the Southern black freedom movement at its best and was America's most "unsullied" and moral form of social activism. He compared his attraction to SNCC to "a moth to a light."

But while committed to the goal of banishing the scourge of racism from America, Savio, in his first six months at Berkeley, was not yet a radical when it came to protest tactics. He thought CORE's use of sound trucks in its protests was foolish and a poor way of communicating with the community. Savio also disliked the "shop-in" tactic used in February 1964 to pressure Lucky supermarkets to end its discriminatory hiring practices, because he found that tactic-which involved disruption of the store by protesters carrying groceries to the check-out stands and then just leaving them there-"messy" and lacking in "self-restraint and dignity."

Given Savio's later political trajectory, it may sound strange to characterize him as a moderate, but tactically that was what he was in his early Berkeley days. The bulk of his activist energies were devoted not to risky protest activity but to tutoring young black students. Savio soon became aware, however, that the tutoring project was a "finger in the dyke operation," and that whatever good it was doing was undermined by the poor schools that seemed to beat down whatever enthusiasm the tutors managed to inspire in their students.

Savio's leap from tactical moderation to radicalism came suddenly, in the spring semester, and it was linked to his deepening connection to the student activist community. He began to make friends with students who, like him, were attracted to civil rights activism, including Cheryl Stevenson, the first woman he would date at Berkeley. In March, while socializing with this circle of activist friends at a party, Savio and some of the others decided to drive across the Bay Bridge to join the protests for fair hiring at San Francisco's Sheraton Palace Hotel-protests he had first read about from leaflets he had been given at Berkeley's free speech area on Bancroft Way and Telegraph Avenue. In light of Savio's later fame as a critic of university education for breeding conformity, it is ironic that he would later credit his education with paving the way for his decision, and that of fellow activists, to join their first sit-ins in these civil rights protests. As Savio explained, "Civil disobedience was studied in class in discussions of Socrates and Thoreau, and acted out at Bay Area businesses in demonstrations that were frequent, massive, and often successful."

In this chapter, the details of Savio's decision to engage in civil disobedience at the Sheraton Palace Hotel will be told in his own words, through the documents he wrote soon after his arrest for participating in this mass sit-in. Savio's subsequent reflections on this event are worth considering as you read those documents. Unlike today, when symbolic arrests for nonviolent civil disobedience are quite common, in March 1964 this was not the case. Risking arrest and prison by sitting in was far from a casual act, especially if it was your first arrest-as it would be for Savio. Thus he saw the arrest as an important symbol of a deepening commitment to the civil rights movement, a rite of passage, which he likened to a Native American brave killing and bringing home his first bear. Since the struggle to eliminate racism in the hotel's hiring "had the stamp of morality on it," for Savio, "the issue wasn't whether this was the right thing to do, but whether you had the courage to do it."

Equally significant, this sit-in was the first protest at which Savio experienced the deep sense of solidarity and community of mass protest. It had "a righteous, even sanctified power," which had a profound impact upon him. Under its influence, Savio, who had previously been so moderate on tactics, not only opted to sit in and face arrest, but even favored more militant tactics, such as going to the upper floors of the hotel and waking up hotel guests. While aware that this would have disturbed these guests, Savio thought they ought to be disturbed by the hotel's racism. Savio was also growing more sensitive to political process and the need for protest movements to make decisions democratically, even in the heat of battle, and so was willing to reflect critically on the movement's deliberative style even as he supported its ends. Finally, Savio was aware that his deepening civil rights activism and that of his friends served not only the community, in battling racism, but the activists' humanity and character. "The civil rights movement" enabled the committed activist "to be an agent in . . . [his or her] own life." Those so committed, "more than anyone else, are causing things to occur rather than having things occur to them." Savio concluded, "It's very different from watching television or being a spectator at spectator sports. There seemed to be a real wedding of thought and action; that's a very abstract way to think about it, but I think that's a lot of what was attractive" about civil rights activism.

Defendant Statement, Sheraton Palace Hotel Sit-In

March 1964

Written for the attorneys representing Savio and his fellow protesters arrested in the civil rights sit-in/sleep-in at the Sheraton Palace Hotel in San Francisco on March 7, 1964, Savio's defendant statement is the first document generated by his civil rights activism. The demonstration at which Savio was arrested was the largest civil rights protest in the Bay Area, involving several thousand demonstrators. Savio was one of 167 protesters arrested, the majority of whom were students. Fair hiring at San Francisco's hotels had been an issue for years in the black community, because African Americans encountered persistent discrimination when seeking jobs in the hotels. The sit-in was the culmination of a surge of militant fair-hiring agitation at the hotel that had begun in February, which the Sheraton Palace initially resisted with an injunction and lawsuit. The pickets and sit-in spurred San Francisco mayor John Shelley to intercede. He presided over negotiations that resulted in the Sheraton Palace and more than thirty other hotels agreeing to adopt a nondiscriminatory hiring policy-a major victory for the movement. Savio's defendant statement is his only contemporary account of the events leading to his first arrest, and it reflects his solidarity with the goals of the protests, his criticism of its tactics, and his disdain for police misconduct at the sit-in.

A. Why I took part in the Demonstration

1. To protest the racially unfair hiring practices of the hotel.

2. To protest the previous arrests at the hotel.

3. To support those negotiating to obtain-

a) from the hotel, assurances that its hiring practices would be liberalized.

b) From the hotel owners' association, assurances that city-wide hotel hiring practices would be liberalized.

4. To focus community attention on the racial injustice in San Francisco, and, in particular, in the hotel industry.

B. What I Was Doing Prior To the Arrests

With a large group of those demonstrators who had entered the hotel I was sitting on the floor blocking the main entrance. We were waiting there for a decision from the demonstration leaders on whether we should be arrested. Conflicting reports reached us regarding this decision, but finally Tracy Simms announced to us that those who themselves chose to undergo arrest should continue to sit in the entrance (behavior which, she said, the police had said they would reward with arrest), whereas those not desiring arrest should "sleep-in" in the hotel lobby, the hotel having assured that none sleeping-in would be arrested.

I felt that this proposed splitting of the demonstration members would weaken the overall effectiveness of our protest. Although I could not decide whether all sleeping in or all being arrested was the better (i.e. more effective) procedure, nevertheless I did believe that making it a purely individual decision was a tactical error.

Undecided as to what I should do, and even deciding for a while to sleep-in, I finally went to the side entrance where arrests had begun. After watching the arrests for some time, I concluded that although unanimity would have been best, nevertheless, lacking unanimity, a large number of arrests would still be quite effective in focusing public and government attention on our demonstration and its aims. However, it seemed that in comparison with the great size of the demonstration, the number of those arrested was quite small. Deciding, therefore, that increasing this number was the best course of action, I lay down with those blocking the side entrance.

C. Concerning the Arrests

At first I considered the police to be "just doing their jobs," and while I held those jobs in contempt, and although I would have greatly admired one of the officers refusing to continue his assignment, nevertheless I recognized no clear moral imperative for such action. However, my good opinion of these men suffered due to the following:

A policeman dressed in plain clothes (whom I originally mistook for a hotel official), on the occasion of one of the demonstrators being taken with a fit of seizure, exhorted the group lying in the entrance to go home before someone else got hurt, saying that we'd made our point. Though there was an unmistakably patronizing quality (a "be good little boys and girls" quality) about his speech, still I believed that he too was "just doing his job" and was speaking, for the most part, with sincerity. I was rudely awakened to the cinicism [sic] and callousness of this man when not five minutes after giving his pretty little speech, he bent his fingers upward under the chin of one of the demonstrators, gouging the latter's throat violently in an effort to pull him away from his fellow demonstrators. This took place while two other policemen attempted, with fair success, to block the view of this brutality from the press photographers who were present.

When my turn came to be arrested, I offered moderate resistance to the officers, but was carried to the waiting wagon without notable incident.

Mario R. Savio

2283 Hearst, Apt. 2

Berkeley, California

Mario Savio archive, copy in editor's possession, published by permission of Lynne Hollander Savio.

To the Dean of the College of Letters and Science, University of California, Berkeley

20 May 1964

In the initial stages of Savio's civil rights activism, he tried to balance this political role with his academic work. This proved increasingly difficult, especially after his arrest at the Sheraton Palace sit-in, when the court required him to attend the trial resulting from his arrest, which caused him to miss many classes. So he wrote the dean at Berkeley requesting permission to withdraw from his chemistry course. The letter offers the earliest expression of Savio's views on the university's responsibility to support movements for democratic change. It also articulates an idealistic view of the university as a "great and free" democratic institution, which may come as a surprise to those who associate Savio only with his criticism of the university during the FSM. But actually, that criticism can be seen as an extension of the idealism displayed here, in that it grew out of his disappointment over UC's failure to live up to his lofty ideals about the democratic role a university should play in society. The letter also offers Savio's view of his acquittal in the case resulting from his arrest at the Sheraton Palace.

Gentlemen:

I am writing this letter in support of a petition for permission to withdraw from Chemistry IA. I was arrested in the second Sheraton Palace Hotel demonstration for equal opportunities in employment for minority peoples. As a result of my arrest I was required to be present in court for two and one half weeks; accordingly, I shall be unable to complete my courses satisfactorily unless I am permitted to withdraw from my chemistry course. I single out this course because it is by far the most difficult to "catch up" in, since it has time-consuming laboratories, several of which I have now missed.

In my opinion, consideration of my petition should be based upon the following three principles:

(a) Any person acting in his role as citizen should be prepared to suffer the probable consequences of his acts.

(b) The University of California should not ordinarily interfere with its students when the latter are acting in their roles as citizens.

(c) As a great and free institution of higher learning with a vital interest in the extension of democratic process, the University of California should defend the right to use any legal means to secure civil rights and civil liberties whenever these have been denied or abridged.

Concerning (a), most difficulties of application will arise out of disagreement as to the force of the words "probable consequences." For though a given consequence may well have been probable, the citizen whose action is in question might easily have been ignorant of the fact, in which case the university must judge whether the consequence in question is such that the student-citizen can reasonably have been expected to know of it. Of course, when the consequence of a citizen's act is contingent not merely upon that act but also upon some subsequent judgment of a second party (e.g., the court), then the probability of that consequence is put seriously in doubt.

Concerning (b), difficulties occur in the interpretation" of "ordinarily." For there are some crimes (e.g., rape) such that if a student be convicted of one of them, sufficient grounds may exist for denial of readmission to that student. However, there are other grounds for qualification of (b). Thus, due to the very nature of a university, it is expected that there are certain matters upon which it cannot remain neutral. An example is offered in (c). Hence there will be instances in which (b) and (c) may appear to be in conflict. These instances will demand a prudential judgment on the part of the appropriate university officials. A prudential judgment is never simply the drawing of consequences from premises by a strict application of the laws of inference. Rather, it is the application of a working principle which is adopted in view both of the particular case and of antecedently accepted general principles. I suggest that in the case in question, an appropriate working principle is:

If a student is subject merely to the probable consequences of some action undertaken in his role as citizen, then the university is under no obligation to aid him in shouldering those consequences. If, however, the student is subject to consequences of his action which cannot honestly be considered probable, and if the action was a legal one, and if furthermore, (1) the university has it within its power to lessen the effect of those consequences, and (2) the student's interest in the matter is one with which the university must be presumed to be deeply concerned (see (c) above), then the university is under a clear obligation to assist the student to a reasonable degree.

I submit that in the case of my petition, all the elements are present for an application of this working principle in a manner favorable to my request, since:

(1) The matter in question clearly falls under principle (c); for although I performed that act which I believed would result in my arrest, nevertheless, being arrested is not a crime, and furthermore, I was subsequently acquitted proving that my action was perfectly legal.

(2) I had no reason to believe that I would be required to appear in court at all; but if required to do so, I was advised that I would only have to appear for the first court session, and that presence at subsequent sessions would be required of counsel only. Furthermore, even if appearance at all court sessions be supposed a probable consequence of being arrested and demanding a jury trial, nevertheless, I can scarcely be supposed to have expected this to take more than two or three days since breach of the peace is a relatively simple matter to decide. It was the court's decision to try fifteen defendants at once that caused the trials to take so long; but the subsequent decision of the court can hardly be counted a probable consequence of my action (see above, final sentence of paragraph beginning "Concerning (a) . . . ").

To conclude, let me remark that I have framed principle (c) in such a way as to avoid asserting that the university is obliged to defend the tactic and philosophy of civil disobedience. This is not to imply that I do not hold there are circumstances under which the university is so obligated; but merely that for simplicity I have adopted the more restricted statement, since civil disobedience is not an issue in this case. Also, although not all the defendants were acquitted, this is not a clear indication that they committed any crime. For in some cases the court judge admitted in evidence facts establishing the constitutionality of our demonstration. In these cases acquittals were brought in. Indeed, I believe that Judge Welsh's instruction concerning the constitutional questions involved was a major factor in my acquittal. On the other hand, at some of the trials no discussion of the constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and of lawful assembly was permitted. In some of the latter instances convictions or hung juries resulted. Naturally the convictions will be appealed, and in accord with the spirit of our system of justice, the university and the public should presume the defendants innocent until it is clear that all appeals have failed, an eventuality which, in view of the facts, is highly unlikely.

In short, then, the defendants in these cases have missed as much school as they have because of an unforeseen decision of the court. That this decision was unforeseeable as well as unforeseen follows directly from the nature of the prejudgments that certain of the judges involved made with respect to the guilt of the defendants. That these prejudgments were made is clear from what has already been indicated; namely, that the instructions that a given judge gave the jury and whether that judge would admit in evidence facts pertaining to the constitutional issues involved were important factors in the decisions of the juries. The question resolves itself in this, therefore: Should the student demonstrators be assisted by the university in shouldering the hopefully highly improbable consequences of their actions, that certain judges foreseeing the ultimate acquittals took it upon themselves to impose the penalties of fines (i.e., daily carfare) and of missed classes for periods of upwards of two weeks? I believe it has been amply demonstrated that it is the responsibility of the university to assist these demonstrators.

Respectfully submitted,

Mario R. Savio

Junior, Letters and Science

Mario Savio archive, copy in editor's possession, published by permission of Lynne Hollander Savio.

Application Form for the Mississippi Summer Project, 7 June 1964-25 August 1964

Circa April-May 1964

Savio learned of the Mississippi Freedom Summer project from John King, his cellmate following his arrest at the Sheraton Palace. Savio was immediately attracted to the idea of the project-especially its quest to secure voting rights for black Mississippians, who had been disenfranchised for generations by a Jim Crow system that had made a mockery of the Fifteenth Amendment. For Savio, this crusade for democratic rights was so important-his "kind of religious" feeling that this was the most morally compelling battle against evil in America at that time was so strong-that he felt an urgency about both applying and being accepted for the project. Savio knew that those running the project would be selective, since Mississippi was "a dangerous place," where civil rights workers had to "rely on one another," and so they needed to be sure that the applicants chosen for the project were "clearly committed, but . . . also had some maturity about the thing." So Savio did not apply in a casual way, and his application reflects this, offering a thoughtful summary of his past activism and how the experiences and skills growing out of that activism could be useful to the Mississippi freedom movement-all of which reflects his growing confidence in his political abilities.

 

Name: Mario R. Savio . . . . Age 21 . . . .

Schools Attended . . . . Graduation year

Martin Van Buren H.S.: Queens Village, NY, June 1960

Manhattan College; Bronx, N.Y., transferred out June 1961

Queens College; Flushing, N.Y. transferred out (to move to California, June 1963)

University of California at Berkeley; presently attending

. . . High School and College activities

High School: National Honor Society (Valedictorian of class of 1,200) . . .

President of Student Association

National Finalist, Westinghouse Science Talent Search

 

Queens College: Charter member of Philosophy Club (unfortunately short-lived)

Member of Queens College Mexico Volunteers (with which I did

Community development work in Mexico last summer)

University of California: University Friends of SNCC (last semester)

One of the organizers (and presently a member-tutor) of

S(tudent) E(educational) A(ssistance) L(eague), tutorial

And study hall for Negro elementary and high school students in the Berkeley area whose education is substandard due to de-facto segregation.

Member of SLATE, off-campus, left-wing political party: This is an "umbrella" organization whose members are of various political views which are left of center. . . .

Arrests . . . .

The Sheraton-Palace Hotel in San Francisco (a demonstration organized by the Ad hoc Committee to End Discrimination). At about 4 A.M. on the morning of March 7, 1964; the police began making arrests after the demonstrators, lying down with arms linked, began blocking the exits of the hotel. We were charged with disturbing the peace. We have been booked and arraigned, and are presently out on bail awaiting trial. Our attorneys will probably enter a plea of not guilty.

 

Skills and experience . . . for work on the [Freedom Summer] programs . . .

Last summer I went to Taxco in Mexico with the Queens College Mexico Volunteers to do community development work. I was the one of the group with the best knowledge of Spanish; accordingly, I was chosen to explain our work to the wealthy citizens and to the local government. Also, I had to request financial assistance of these citizens. Among the government officials, we encountered considerable hostility toward our efforts. Though not so extreme as the situation in Mississippi, what we encountered in Taxco was comparable: we had to explain to hostile and influential members of the community the nature of our work. . . .

I was one of the organizers and am presently a tutor in SEAL. This was a joint project of University Friends of SNCC and Berkeley CORE. . . . [I] have done public speaking on political subjects. . . . I believe I could be successful in convincing Negro citizens of the importance of registering to vote, again on the basis of my work in Mexico last summer where I had to persuade the poor farmers of Taxco of the importance of helping us to help themselves; several of them expressed the belief that nothing could improve their situation, so deep had become their desperation.

 

Mario Savio archive, copy in editor's possession, published by permission of Lynne Hollander Savio.

To Dora E. Savio, Berkeley, California

26 May 1964

Savio was close to his mother, and in this letter he confided to her some of his second thoughts about going to Mississippi, after he was accepted as a Freedom Summer volunteer. His list of reservations centered on economic and logistical concerns, which serve as a useful reminder of his working-class background and how important it was to both him and his parents that he complete his education and become the first member of his immediate family to graduate from college. The list is also notable for what it did not include-any discussion of the violence and dangers faced by civil rights workers in Mississippi. This likely reflects a desire to avoid worrying his mother. The letter also reflects how deeply Savio had internalized the struggle for racial justice-that he was trying to convince his mother to join and promote a consumer boycott against a racially discriminatory bank-and it shows Savio's Left trajectory and disaffection from the two-party system.

Dear Mom,

I'm sorry to hear that Tom will not be giving the Valedictory. On the other hand, we would-none of us-have wanted him to say pointless things. Also, although the speech which will be given may well be nonsense, let's not say so just because Tom isn't the Valedictorian-I'm sure that's not the case though.

Concerning this semester: I am definitely completing three of the four courses in which I enrolled. In addition, on the basis of a long letter which I wrote to the dean's office, the university had reconsidered its policy toward student demonstrators, and is permitting us to defer completion of our courses. Accordingly, I shall received credit for every course in which I enrolled this semester.

Concerning the summer: A number of things have moved me to reconsider my plans, even though I have been finally accepted by SNCC.

a. I am not perfectly sure what my motives were in applying in the first place.

b. My family is very short on funds, and in the event of an arrest (which would be quite likely), you (i.e., Dad) would be called upon to post bail bond.

c. It will be difficult to obtain an adequate loan from the university in the fall if I have not worked through the summer.

d. There are several worthwhile projects here in the Bay Area from among which I can choose, so that the rationale for going South is considerably weakened.

e. I shall be far more useful to myself and to the community if I have completed an adequate education-as soon as possible.

f. I am determined to remain in the Bay Area: accordingly next semester I shall be 100% self-supporting; therefore it is desirable that I build up at least a small reserve of cash.

g. I believe I become a California resident (for university purposes) if, upon my 22nd birthday I have been in the state for one continuous year; this would require my remaining here through the summer (I am not absolutely sure about this last point, but will find out tomorrow, and will make my final decision on that basis).

Concerning this coming Saturday: by all means come and if you can, please bring all my belongings-books and otherwise (clothing, camping gear, etc.). Unfortunately we'll not be able to talk for long as I will have to be preparing a paper but at least we'll be able to spend several enjoyable hours together-and perhaps, if I can complete more of the paper by then than I have anticipated, we will be able to spend most of the day together.

One more thing: please immediately withdraw all your money from the Bank of America, asking to see the manager when you do so; tell him that you are severing your connection with the B. of A. in support of the state-wide C.O.R.E. campaign to bring about fair hiring practices at the B. of A. (e.g., B. of A. officials admit that only 2.2% of their employees are Negro); also please tell the manager that you deplore the refusal of the bank to recognize C.O.R.E. as a legitimate bargaining agent. If you've made any friends who bank at B. of A. (e.g., the Bezalis, or your neighbors on the block-ask to be sure, it won't hurt!) ask them to do the same. Also get whomever you can to oppose the anti-Rumford initiative when it comes up for a vote-and please don't sign the anti-work rules (railroad petition-ask Tom, he'll explain all about it).

My best to Dad, Noni, Tom-See you soon.

Love-your son

P.S.-I am a paid up member ($1) of the American Socialist Party. This is not-I repeat this is not a subversive organization. In fact, some SP members regularly work within the liberal wing of the Democratic Party (although some SP members are opposed to this practice). Many members of the San Francisco section are Cranston supporters, although I think he's a bit too conservative on several issues!

See you soon-love.

P.P.S. I really like the Bay Area, and for the foreseeable future at any rate I shall make it my home. I have been doing a considerable amount of driving under various conditions (e.g., night, light rain at night, freeway, mountains, etc.) and I have become quite proficient, for a beginner anyway-I shall soon take my road test.

Tom should be encouraged to apply at the very best college he can possibly be accepted at. Perhaps, if necessary he could do this after one or two years at a less than ideal institution. Likewise, it would be exceedingly wise if at least the final two years of college be spent away from home-DISTANCE MAKES THE HEART GROW FONDER!!

Mario Savio archive, copy in editor's possession, published by permission of Lynne Hollander Savio.

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