Speech and Spectacle
Speakers Circle is MU’s epicenter of free speech.
On any given day, if you walk just outside the Arts and Science Building where Ninth Street turns into Conley Avenue, you could encounter an evangelical preacher trying to save souls, fraternity brothers raising money for charity, theater students performing Twelfth Night, an avid hacky sacker practicing foot-eye coordination, human rights activists raising awareness of human trafficking, the Columbia Fire Department simulating a dorm room fire or protesters promoting their political cause.
Constructed during the 1986 addition to the southwest side of Ellis Library, Conley Plaza originated as a concrete open space framed by overflowing container gardens of seasonal flora that are part of the Mizzou Botanic Garden. (Prior to the modifications to the plaza, Conley Avenue extended east to Hitt Street.)
After students protested the University of Missouri System’s investment in companies operating in South Africa during apartheid by building a shantytown on Francis Quadrangle in October 1986, campus administrators issued guidelines that restricted use of the Quad to official university events. On Feb. 2, 1987, UM System President C. Peter Magrath designated Conley Plaza as the only area on campus where speakers need not get permits. The M-Book, Mizzou’s student guide to the campus community, specifies no limits on the number of speakers or the times they speak. However, sound amplification equipment and musical instruments must not disrupt class, and pedestrians must be allowed to pass.
These photos illustrate a year in the life on what is now known as Speakers Circle, where free speech reigns.