Following the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley, there was a series of far less successful riots and protests on campus that became known as the Filthy Speech Movement. A follow up movement to the first, the Filthy Speech Movement occurred in 1965 when nine people engaged in separate public displays of obscenity, in protest of Campus policies against obscene speech. It all started when John Thomson, a radical who had been attracted to Berkeley because of all the publicity surrounding the Free Speech Movement, sat down on the steps of the Student Union and held a sign across his chest that read ‘Fuck.’ He was arrested for obscenity.

A graduate student witnessed the arrest, and was disgusted by the actions of the police in arresting the freshman for obscenity. The graduate student’s name was Michael Klein, and he went inside a public hall on campus and brought out his copy of Lady Chatterly’s Lover. He read aloud from the work a paragraph concerning copulation, and was subsequently arrested.

In response to the arrests, there were a series of rallies on campus. The major speaker at the Filthy Speech Movement rallies was Art Goldberg, who despite his rather colorful deliveries made some interesting points with his presentations. He accused society of hypocrisy in not allowing public use of a word common in private conversation. Also, he believed that just because the word was classified as obscene did not necessarily make its use automatically offensive. However, these points appealed to a mindset that many did not hold. His main influence came from how he drew a connection between the attempt to regulate the content of speech through obscenity laws and the Free Speech Movement’s protest against restrictions on political speech. He carried this point further to say that in the future the administration or the police could regulate any speech that they wanted by declaring it to be obscene.

Yet the Filthy Speech Movement did not spark the Berkeley campus as had the Free Speech Movement. It seemed that most of the students opposed the public use of filthy speech regardless, and were thus supportive of the administration’s policies. The movement was also greatly hindered when Mario Savio, the charismatic leader of the Free Speech Movement, decided not to support this new effort and indeed voiced his opinion that the issue detracted from the dignity of free speech.

Works Consulted

“Campus Disorders.” New Republic. 160: 5-7. March 29 1969.

“Campus Violence.” National Review. 21: 477-8. May 20 1969.

Crawford, Kenneth. “Campus Revolution.” Il Newsweek. 73: 39. June 2 1969.

Rorabaugh, W.J. Berkeley at War. New York, USA: Oxford University Press. 1989.

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