Michael Delacour, the co-founder of People’s Park, died Thursday at the age of 85.
Delacour’s vision for People’s Park was to create a place for free speech for the community as well as a green space, according to Lisa Teague, a close friend of Delacour’s and a People’s Park community member.
Teague noted that Delacour’s activism could be traced back to the 1960s, when there was a large riot on Telegraph Avenue.
“Following that riot, UC started to crack down on free speech on campus, especially in terms of the bulletin boards that people used to post things on, and when people could table, and restrictions that Mike really was upset about,” Teague said.
The city of Berkeley also cracked down on political concerts at what is now Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park, Teague noted.
They recalled that Delacour ordered a truckload of sod for the park after receiving money as a beneficiary when one of his friends, an ecology rights advocate, was killed.
“There’s pictures out there of people standing on squares of sod,” Teague said. “That is his legacy — that passion for the cause — and those values have had long-lasting changes in Berkeley and continue to have effect today.”
In 1969, Delacour and fellow activists helped create the park on a plot of vacant land purchased by UC Berkeley in 1967. The park quickly evolved into a symbol of counterculture and political activism.
“(Delacour) really wanted to keep things peaceful and positive so it didn’t get deterred from the message,” said Moni Law, campus alumnus and People’s Park and student housing supporter. “Mike’s undying support and energy was just persistent and positive. (When) I asked him what advice would you give others who are organizing today, he said never give up, stay alive, stay living and stay creative in terms of your presentation. He knew the value of collaboration and media, and the energy of all the young people, he was very impressed by.”
Law said Delacour had also mourned the violence that occurred on May 15, 1969, which is now known as “Bloody Thursday,” during which protesters took to the streets in response to the attempted closure of the park. The confrontations resulted in severe injuries to protesters and police officers.
In 2018, campus Chancellor Carol Christ, citing a student housing shortage, announced plans to redevelop People’s Park into a 16-story housing complex.
In 2021, campus planned to conduct soil testing and put up fences in People’s Park, according to Teague. They noted that park advocates held a rally one week into campus’s advances, and Delacour spoke at the rally.
At his call, people began to take down the fences surrounding the park. Teague added that Delacour was “someone people would listen to.”
“Michael Delaour was a sweet, gentle man,” said Joe Liesner, a friend of Delacour, in an email. “He took his role in starting People’s Park and keeping it free very seriously. He carried the sorrow of the people injured and the death of James Rector that happened on May 15, 1969, Bloody Thursday.”
Maxima Ventura, another friend of Delacour and longtime activist with the People’s Park Council, said the park reflected the remainder of Delacour’s life. She called his ability to problem solve and make changes to the park his “greatest achievement.”
Wendy Schlesinger, fellow co-founder of People’s Park, also reflected on People’s Park as the culmination of Delacour’s impact on Berkeley as whole, noting, for example, his initiation of a community ecology movement. The movement saw hundreds of individuals joining together at the park to transform asphalt into fields and gardens.
In an interview with The Daily Californian in 2004, Delacour expressed the park means more than just its physical location.
“It was another place to organize, another place to have a rally,” Delacour said. “The park was secondary.”