Michael Rossman, 1939-2008

Michael Rossman, a Berkeley-based radical who spent his life struggling for a new world, died May 12 at his home surrounded by friends and family. He was 68. Rossman was a red-diaper baby who became active in UC Berkeley’s first radical political party, Slate, in the late 1950s. He is best known for his participation in the 1964 Free Speech Movement during which he was part of the leadership along with Mario Savio, Suzanne Goldberg, Jack Weinberg and others. He spent nine weeks in jail as a result of his involvement in the FSM. He wrote a number of books including “The Wedding Within the War” (1971) which described his experiences in the counter-culture. He has some of the best lines in the documentary film “Berkeley in the 60s.”

By the time the Slingshot crew met Michael, he was archiving political posters and he helped us clean out numerous historical items from our offices at the Long Haul. He never set out to be an archivist but by steadily compiling since the 60’s he had acquired the largest known collection of posters by a single individual. Michael never gave up on the radical movement. He organized conferences that would reunite FSM participants and friends. He was a supporter of People’s Park and he spoke out for the Memorial Oak Grove. A renaissance man, he was filled with energy and had many interests and talents aside from activism. He was a poet from early on and loved music, art and math. He taught primary school math for 30 years and helped run Camp Chrysalis, a summer program that took children to state parks around Northern California, for 25 years. His home in Berkeley was filled with not only books and posters but also exotic plants that would spill from their pots and blur the line with the overgrown plants outside his window. His front door was often left open.

In 1969, he celebrated a three-day hippie marriage celebration with Karen McLellan who he had met at UC Berkeley in 1963. They finally got legally married only months ago. Rossman is survived by McLellan as well as their two sons and a granddaughter.