Quirky Berkeley: Berkeley Revolution site offers insights into Third World Liberation Front

Photo: The Berkeley Revolution 

Each of the six main projects of The Berkeley Revolution website, created by UC Berkeley Professor Scott Saul and his students in a spring class on the 1970s,  opens doors that we didn’t know were there. What they produced is my idea of perfect history — solid research informed with an understanding of the underlying culture, told in elegant English that never once slips into dense or inaccessible academic writing,

Anthony Gilmore and Katrina Nham did just that with “The Third World Liberation Front: The Fight for Third World Studies at Cal.”  The familiar narrative about Berkeley radical politics includes the campus group SLATE and its role in the 1960 House Un-American Activities Committee police riot in San Francisco, the Free Speech Movement of 1964, the Vietnam Day Committee of 1965, and People’s Park in 1969. The struggle, victory, and legacy of the Third World Liberation Front are forgotten, ignored in campus tours, and its anniversaries are unobserved.

The Berkeley Revolution website exhibits long-forgotten documents and photos from the struggle and should make its history better known.

Third World Liberation Front and its goal of starting a Third World College, which would incorporate departments with studies geared towards African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans, all of whom organized campus coalitions at San Francisco State University and Cal known as the Third World Liberation Front. The name is politically loaded – third world as a gesture of solidarity between first-world university students and third-world activists, and “liberation front” as evoking international revolutionary groups.


Things got off the ground more quickly at San Francisco State University than Cal.  At San Francisco State,  demonstrations and a student strike started on November 8, 1968, and ended March 20, 1969. Clashes between the strikers and San Francisco police tactical squads made national news.  The strike ended with the creation of the College of Ethnic Studies, a model which was followed by hundreds of other higher education institutions across the country.

Things got going at Cal in the spring of 1968 but didn’t reach strike pitch until early 1969.

Courtesy: The Berkeley Revolution

In the spring of 1968, the Afro-American Student Union at Cal submitted their proposal for a Black Studies program to the administration.

Courtesy: The Berkeley Revolution

In August 1968, the Asian American Political Alliance issued a General Statement. The General Statement’s emphasis is on trust and affinity as the building blocks of movement building and as key to the successful functioning of a radical organization

Courtesy: The Berkeley Revolution

In January 1969, the various constituent groups joined forces under the banner of the Third World Liberation Front constitution, which borrowed liberally from writings of the Afro-American Student Union.


Photo: Berkeley Barb, Jan. 24, 1969
January 1969: A street fighter tosses a tear gas canister back at police in February 1969. Photos: Hoffman/Berkeley Barb, Grover Wickersham/Liberation News Service

In early 1969, the Front launched a strike which would last ten weeks. Strike tactics included leafleting, informational picketing, blocking Sather Gate and other campus entrances, teach-ins, and mass rallies. Arrests, tear gas, and university disciplinary action were all forms of oppression wielded by the University. For the last two weeks of the strike, National Guardsmen occupied the campus, tasked with maintaining law and order. More than 155 students were arrested during the Cal strike.

Manuel Delgado at Sather Gate. Photo: Ethnic Studies Library, UC Berkeley

This image of Manuel Delgado, a leader in the Mexican American Student Confederation, is the most iconic photograph of the ten-week strike, which ended with Berkeley’s Faculty Senate voting overwhelmingly to establish a department of Ethnic Studies. During those ten weeks, the campus saw an increasingly aggressive police and military reaction to student unrest, foreshadowing the military occupation of Berkeley several months later during the People’s Park struggle.

Saul and his students have made a major contribution to our understanding of the Third World Liberation Front and establishment of  Cal’s ethnic studies program. By focusing on the 1970s and including events from 1968 and 1969, Saul invites us to understand that it is a fiction to think that a decade has an essential character. But our culture has an almost relentless base-ten orientation and we gravitate towards the decade as an organizing device, as a frame through which to make sense of history, particularly of the cultural and social kind.