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Mario, Savio, 53, Campus Protester, Dies



Mario, Savio, 53, Campus Protester, Dies


This is the obituary for Mario Savio, a leader of the Free Speech Movement during the 1960's. He is best known for creating the model for sit-in at University of California at Berkeley and for his protests against the Vietnam War.


Savio, Mario
Free Speech Movement (Berkeley, Calif.)


Pace, Eric




Queens College Department of Special Collections and Archives (New York, N.Y.)



Date Created



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Spatial Coverage

Berkeley (Calif.)


Mario, Savio, 53, Campus Protester, Dies
Mario Savio, an incendiary and highly vocal student protest leader at the University of California at the University of California at Berkeley in the 1960’s, died yesterday in Columbia-Palm Drive Hospital in Sebastopol, Calif. He was 53 and lived in Sonoma County, Calif.
He was admitted to the hospital on Saturday evening, a hospital spokeswoman, Sharon J. Enos, said. Susan Kashack, public information officer for Sonoma State University, which is in Rohnert Park, Calif., said on Tuesday that he had gone into a deep coma after having fibrillation of the heart while moving furniture at his home.
He had been on the Sonoma State faculty, teaching mathematics and philosophy, since 1990, having taught elsewhere in California.
David Averbuck, a lecturer at Sonoma State, said, “He brought that same kind of enthusiasm — that he had in the 60’s –– to his teaching, and the students really appreciated it.”
Mr. Savio was best known as the leader of “free speech” demonstrations protesting campus rules at Berkeley in 1964. He was prominent in what became the Free Speech Movement, which is credited with giving birth to the campus “sit-in” and with being a model for the larger movement to protest the Vietnam War.
He was one of the hundreds of protesters who staged a sit-in on Dec. 2, 1964, at Berkeley in which the police arrested 800 people.
The sit-in was the climax of three months of student disorders in reaction to the university’s curbing activities of civil rights and political groups on the campus. Students contended that the restrictions abridged their constitutional rights, and Mr. Savio became a member of the executive committee of the Free Speech Movement, an organization representing a score of civil rights and political groups at the university.
At a news conference afterward, he said that the Dec. 2 action had been the most successful student strike in American history, with only 17 or 18 percent of the students going to classes. “For the first time,” Mr. Savio 'said, “students used civil disobedience to get their own rights.”
Explaining why he had risked expulsion for agitating on campus in 1964, he once said: “I spent the summer in Mississippi. l witnessed tyranny. I saw groups of men in the minority working their wills over the majority. Then I came back here and found the university preventing us from collecting money for use there
[Inset] Helped establish the model for the sit-in and Vietnam protests.
and even stopping us from getting people to go to Mississippi to help.”
Through a change in rules, the university tried to limit the use of the campus for political activities and the recruiting of students for off-campus demonstrations.
Mr. Savio appealed to his fellow students to half the university machinery with their bodies. But just about the only physical violence came when he bit a police officer on the foot.
Mr. Savio and other protesters were adversaries of Clark Kerr, Berkeley’s president, who dismissed the Free Speech Movement as “a ritual of hackneyed complaints” and said the rabble-rousers were dominated by Communists. But the Berkeley faculty spurned Mr. Kerr’s confrontational position, and he gave in to the protesters.
A philosophy major, Mr. Savio enrolled at the University of California in 1963 and became caught up in the civil rights movement, and interested in political action. His confrontational activities did not go unpunished: he was briefly suspended and was also sentenced to four months in prison for his part in one protest action.
Mr. Savio was born in New York, graduated at the head of his class of 1,200 from Martin Van Buren High School and attended Manhattan College on scholarship and Queens College before moving to Berkeley.
In later years, he taught mathematics, as a tutor and also in public and private schools, at the junior and high-school level. He received a bachelor’s degree, summa cum laude, in 1984 and a master’s degree in 1989, both from San Francisco State University. He taught there and at Modesto Junior College in California before going to Sonoma State.
During a 1994 reunion of 1964 protesters at Berkeley. he said that his 13-year-old son had told him that he would not furnish the required proof of his citizenship when he entered high school the next year.
“They say the fruit never falls far from the tree,” Mr. Savio added. “Thank God.”

More obituaries appear on the preceding page.

Original Format

Newspaper clipping


Pace, Eric, “Mario, Savio, 53, Campus Protester, Dies,” Queens College Civil Rights Archives, accessed May 20, 2022, http://archives.qc.cuny.edu/civilrights/items/show/241.