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When the Great Communicator Communicated

Q. A buddy bets me that Ronald Reagan spoke at Boalt Hall when he was governor of California. I was at Boalt in the Sixties and there is no way he would have ever showed his face on campus. Please confirm. --DCC, San Jose

A. The answer turns on a technicality, so we will let the two of you duke it out. Reagan indeed spoke at Boalt Hall on March 11, 1966 — during his run for governor. If the reporting in the Daily Californian is to be believed, he didn’t mince words despite facing a very hostile audience at the law school.

During his talk Reagan parried a “barrage of thorny questions thrown at him by the law students,” in the process denouncing “welfare spending, student activists, peace demonstrators and increased federal centralization.” He defended his conservative stance with the observation, “In show business we know when you violate the old tried and true traditions you get in trouble.

On the topic of Berkeley’s very vocal anti-war movement: “Of course I believe in free speech. But once you’ve committed men to fight and possibly die, then freedom of speech has got to stop short — not say anything which would give aid and comfort to the enemy.

The Daily Cal reports, “The room exploded.”

Leaving no ox ungored, Reagan turned to other controversial topics.

Welfare: “Is welfare supposed to perpetuate poverty or eliminate it? You and I who are paying for all this have a right to use a bit of a stick sometimes to prod some of these people back onto the path of productive work.

César Chávez and the United Farm Workers: “[O]utside professionals are forcing unionism on these people against their will.

The Watts Riots: “Southern Negroes coming here in their ignorance cherished illusions about the streets being paved with gold.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act: “I believe in the government — at point of bayonet if necessary — protecting really basic rights against discrimination; but you’ve still got the soul-searching task of fighting prejudice without giving the Government a control which might one day be used against you.

In that fall’s gubernatorial election Reagan defeated Edmund G. “Pat” Brown by almost a million votes.

Have a question?  Ask the Archivist: benemann@law.berkeley.edu

3/21/2012