Speaker Ban Marker to Be Placed on 'The Wall'

Photo by Jock Lauterer ’67 for The Daily Tar Heel

A marker to the students who worked to get the infamous Speaker Ban Law repealed in the 1960s will be erected in McCorkle Place.

A granite marker with bronze plaques approximately 30 inches high and 30 inches wide will be located on the stone wall where the oldest part of the campus meets Franklin Street. It was near there in March 1966 that Frank Wilkinson, who had invoked the Fifth Amendment before the House Un-American Activities Committee; and Herbert Aptheker, an avowed Communist, spoke to students across the wall while standing off University property.

In June 1963, a bill was rushed through the N.C. General Assembly that forbade anyone known to be a member of the Communist Party or who had invoked the Fifth Amendment in investigation of Communists from speaking on the campuses of universities receiving state funds. Students played important roles in trying over a five-year period to get the law repealed, and the students and UNC administration wrestled over its enforcement. In 1968, a three-judge panel declared the law unconstitutional. The Legislature did not actually repeal the law until 1995.

The marker will include the names of 12 students who filed the lawsuit that led to the law being overturned as well as an inscription. It is scheduled to be dedicated Oct. 12 during annual University Day ceremonies.

Memorials on the grounds of the oldest part of the campus are rare — McCorkle Place is home to, notably, a monument to Joseph Caldwell, UNC’s first president; Silent Sam, which commemorates University people who died in Civil War service; and the most recent (2005), the Unsung Founders Memorial to slaves and free workers who helped build the campus.

Letters from readers …

The original right-wing speaker ban law was despicable. The new left-wing de facto speaker ban law that is enforced by intolerant students is equally despicable but probably more effective. They were 100 percent successful in terminating Congressman Tancredo. They were less successful in terminating Congressman Goode’s remarks, and the chancellor gave himself an ill-deserved pat on the back for “minimizing” the abuse directed at the speaker.

But as far as I can tell, all “controversial” (i.e., “well-known conservative”) potential speakers have understood the “message” and now avoid UNC like the plague. So apparently the new speaker ban (oops… speaker discouragement) law is quite effective.

Here is a thought experiment: What would happen if a few conservative women students invited Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann to make a joint appearance at UNC to give a presentation on their perspectives on “women’s issues” and they accepted the invitation? The chancellor would probably have to ask Gov. Beverly Perdue to activate the national guard to prevent another “Tancredo,” but if UNC is really a “liberal” university, why should that be necessary?

I challenge UNC to PROVE ME WRONG.

James M. Westall ’73 (PhD)
Clemson, S.C.

Although I am pleased that a marker commemorating the fight against the Speaker Ban Law is going to be placed on the stone wall adjacent to Franklin Street, and that it will include the names of the 12 students who filed the lawsuit that led to the law being overturned, I regret that it will not include at least three other names:

  • Chancellor William B. Aycock ’37, who exhausted himself in opposing the law on behalf of the University;
  • McNeill Smith ’38, the UNC alumnus who conceived and executed the successful suit to overturn the law; and
  • Bob Spearman ’65, the student body president who rallied student opposition to the law.

Bob and several other students who held key student positions had agreed to be plaintiffs in the suit but missed the opportunity to participate because their terms expired before it could be filed.

Hugh Stevens ’65

I concur with Hugh Stevens ’65 that three names are notably absent and should be added to the list of 12 protesting the speaker ban – Chancellor Aycock, UNC alumnus McNeill Smith and Student Body President Bob Spearman.

George Ingram ’66
Washington, D.C.

I read “Speaker Ban Marker to Be Placed on ‘The Wall'” (June 2011) with great interest. The Speaker Ban Law, which so afflicted UNC just as I graduated in 1963, was news when I returned from study abroad in 1965.

In 2005, when I first read Gene Nichol’s article in the Alumni Review, I apparently did not read the picture captions, because when my wife read it, she quoted something stirring someone said at the time and asked me if I could place who it was. I could not say, although the sentiments about democracy and free speech did sound vaguely familiar. As it turned out, I was quoted beneath one of the photographs. The quotation may have been from a statement I sent to the Speaker Ban Commission in 1965 or from a pamphlet the News Bureau put out on me when I graduated in 1963.

Had the law been in effect just a little earlier, the UNC Foreign Students Board, and I as its chair, would have been in violation of the law because we had just had a deputy secretary of mission from the Soviet Embassy on campus to speak. He, of course, was a card-carrying party member, else how did he get his job.

I went away to Oxford and thought little of the law, but I felt I was in a time warp when I returned two years later to find the University and the state aflame debating the law. With little else to do in the summer of ’65, waiting to go to law school, I attended the hearings on the Speaker Ban Law, which were televised statewide.

My strongest memory of the hearings is a little unusual. A now-retired Kenan professor and friend, a native of the state, brushed aside my parsing of the law and politics, saying words to the effect, “You know the law’s supporters are going to lose! Look at their faces on television. They look mean-spirited and small.”

Looking even more closely at the captions, I see that Jock Lauterer ’67 took the now-classic photograph over the wall that your article reproduced. It splashed over two pages at the front of Nichols’ article. Jock Lauterer went on to found a weekly newspaper in my hometown, Rutherfordton, and publish a book of photographs of Rutherford County faces (Wouldn’t Take Nothin’ for My Journey Now).

Fred Anderson ’63
Chevy Chase, Md.

I graduated from UNC law school in 1966. The speaker ban was a terrible piece of legislation. It is the only time I ever participated in a demonstration. I can remember vividly running across the lawn at McCorkle Place with some of my law school classmates to voice our protest over the ban. I believe I was there in March 1966 to hear the speakers. What was so impressive was the fact that the demonstration attracted a real cross section of students, it was peaceful and, as the photograph suggests, the demonstrators were very well-dressed – no hippies in that crowd. That sent a powerful message to the legislators.

Richard G. Elliott Jr. ’66 (LLB)
Key Largo, Fla.

This alumnus is 100 percent against the placement of this Communist-inspired memorial on our campus.

William I. Berryhill Jr. ’63

It’s good that a marker commemorating the fight against the Speaker Ban Law will be placed on the stone wall adjacent to Franklin Street. It’s also good that it will include the names of the 12 students who filed the lawsuit that led to the law being overturned.

But three key names are missing. Without including Chancellor William B. Aycock ’37, who steadfastly opposed the law on behalf of the University; McNeill Smith ’38, the UNC alumnus who conceived and executed the successful suit to overturn the law; and Bob Spearman ’65, the student body president who rallied student opposition to the law, the monument will be incomplete. These are the people who provided the key leadership in getting the ban overturned.

The students who lent their names as plaintiffs in the suit to overturn the ban were important. The contributions of Aycock, Smith and Spearman, however, were the central force in the effort. To omit them from the memorial would distort history.

Neal Jackson ’65
Church Hill, Md.

More online…

  • With No Warning, No Debate: While dean of the law school, Gene Nichol, whose specialty is constitutional law, took a keen interest in one of the most stirring controversies in Carolina’s history — the Speaker Ban Law. As he prepared to leave UNC to be president of the College of William & Mary, Nichol focused on the role of former Chancellor William B. Aycock ’37 (MA, ’48 JD).
    From the Carolina Alumni Review, July/August 2005, available online to Carolina Alumni members.

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