Remember S.I. Hayakawa? – Past Daily Reference Room

S.I. Hayakawa - famously ripping out Microphone cables. The 60s and Semantics were at logger-heads.

S.I. Hayakawa – famously ripping out Microphone cables. The 60s and Semantics were at logger-heads.

. . . or click on the link here for Audio Player – Speaking Freely with S.I. Hayakawa – April 20, 1969 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection.

If you were around in the 60s, or even more precise, if you were going to college and happened to be in the Bay Area of California in the 60s, the name S.I. Hayakawa would ring all kinds of bells for you.

A quaint and quirky Semantics Professor, turned College Administrator with a mean streak. During the campus unrest between 1968 and 1969, Hayakawa endeared himself to the “get-tough/pro-war/law-and-order” crowd by storming a sound truck during a demonstration, and physically ripping out the microphone cables (see photo above for living proof). All because of Student/Black Panther demonstrations for a Black Studied department at the college. The photo of the cable-pulling incident became a rallying cry for the pro-war advocates and those who felt student demonstrations were getting out of hand. In the end, Hayakawa relented, and San Francisco State became the first college to develop a Department of Ethnic Studies.

Spurned on by his College experience, he was persuaded by higher ups in the California Republican Party to seek the office of Senator, which he won in 1977. Famously known for his naps during legislative sessions, Hayakawa raised more than a few eyebrows by advocating the U.S. not pay for damages sought by Japanese-Americans, interred in camps during World War 2, even though he was of Japanese ancestry and lived in the U.S. during the war (he was born in Canada).

A colorful figure, and a frustrating one. Here is an interview he gave to Edwin Newman for the series Speaking Freely on April 20, 1969, during his tenure as President of San Francisco State College.

Oh . . .the 60s.

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