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University of Missouri

Speech and Spectacle

Speakers Circle is MU’s epicenter of free speech.

speakers circle

Armed with cell phones, students document the flames as a replica residence hall room burns Sept. 18, 2013, on Speakers Circle. Columbia Fire Department firefighters ignited the room at the 13th annual Fire Factor to demonstrate fire safety in residence halls.

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.

speakers circle

Derrick Fogle, aka the Hack Man, maintains his form and his cool the afternoon of April 25, 2013, in front of student protesters. The free-speech mix of student activism, political discourse, religious diversity and nonprofit fundraising turns Speakers Circle into a cacophony of democracy.

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Street preacher Jesse Morrell weathers the written scorn of poster-toting secularists Oct. 1, 2013.

speakers circle

On a chilly morning, April 25, 2013, Alpha Epsilon Pi member Jeremy Schmetterer plays guitar while raising money for the fraternity’s Rock-A-Thon.

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A former member of the MU 3-D Printing Club, Alex Madinger, BS ME ’13, creates random bubble shapes to raise awareness of the club April 30, 2013.

speakers circle

On March 1, 2013, winter marks a lull in activity on Speakers Circle, but a religious calling card foretells the evangelizing that heats up when the weather warms.

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A fixture over the years, George “Brother Jed” Smock, seated, attracts saints and sinners to Speakers Circle.

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Colorful hand painting carries a message for These Hands Don’t Hurt, a student group raising money April 25, 2013, for True North of Columbia, which provides safe housing and advocates for victims of domestic and sexual violence.

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A replica of an MQ-9 Reaper drone looms overhead March 14, 2013, as Young Americans for Liberty at MU distribute information about their Libertarian Party group.