“University of California officials, reversing a decision that had ignited a debate over freedom of expression, have given the university’s Emma Goldman Papers Project at Berkeley permission to send a fund-raising letter that includes quotations from Goldman about war and the suppression of free speech.
Earlier, the university had refused to allow the solicitation to be mailed because officials said the quotations from Goldman, a Russian-born anarchist, amounted to a political statement opposing the Bush administration’s preparations for possible military action against Iraq.
Candace S. Falk, the director of the Goldman Project, said today that she received a telephone call from the office of the Berkeley chancellor, Robert M. Berdahl, on Wednesday. During the conversation, John F. Cummins, the chancellor’s chief of staff, expressed regret for the difficulties caused by the decision to delete the quotations, Dr. Falk said. She said Dr. Cummins then indicated that the fund-raising letter could be mailed as originally written.
Janet Gilmore, a spokeswoman for the university said today, “She is free to distribute the original letter without the changes.”
Dr. Falk said it was too late to send the original letter because it was geared to soliciting donations before the tax year ended. Instead, she said, the project would use the quotations in thank-you letters to supporters.
The letter included three quotations from Goldman, who supported a number of radical causes, including opposition to military conscription and to American involvement in World War I. She was deported to Russia in 1919 and died in Canada in 1940. Her papers have been collected, researched and published at Berkeley since 1980.
One of the quotations – “the most violent element in society is ignorance” – was allowed to remain in the letter, but university officials struck the others. One from 1915 called on people “not yet overcome by war madness to raise their voice of protest.” The other, from 1902, warned that advocates of free speech “shall soon be obliged to meet in cellars, or in darkened rooms with closed doors.”
In a statement on Tuesday, Dr. Berdahl expressed the university’s continued support for the Goldman Project. In a reference to the deletions, he suggested that “in retrospect, had we to do it over, we would have done it differently.” But until the telephone call from Dr. Cummins, Dr. Falk said, there had been no communication from the university about reinstating the quotations.
“Now I understand, maybe one tiny, tiny, tiny part of what Emma Goldman’s life must have been like in the sense of both taking risks and also appreciating what it feels like when your voice is really speaking for others who have similar concerns,” Dr. Falk said.
She said she had been overwhelmed by public reaction to news reports about the deletions. Since Tuesday, Dr. Falk said, the Goldman Project had received more than 300 letters and e-mail messages from around the world, all but a few supporting her view that deleting the quotations amounted to censorship. The university had insisted the disagreement was about fund-raising techniques, not free speech.
Dozens of people also sent donations, most of them in amounts of $10 or $20, she said. By today, the Goldman Project had received about $4,000, an amount she said that the project was very grateful to receive but that was well short of the $50,000 or so the annual solicitation had raised in previous years. Because of the dispute, most of the solicitation letters were not mailed last month.
“We are coming up short financially, but we feel so much positive reinforcement for our work and the importance of Emma’s words,” Dr. Falk said. “It will help us continue through these hard times.”
New York Times, 17 January 2003