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Carolina Political Union

Carolina Political Union

Organized in 1936, the mission of the Carolina Political Union (CPU) was to stimulate an interest in politics among Chapel Hill students, faculty, and community members, a goal which was accomplished in large part by their efforts to bring speakers to campus. The group was composed of students and received significant support from University President Frank Porter Graham (1886-1972). Prior to merging with the Carolina Forum in 1948, the CPU succeeded in sponsoring visits by representatives from major political parties, government agencies, news media, corporate employers, and labor interests, in addition to elected officials, ambassadors, businessmen, and attorneys. Higher profile speakers, such as the President and Postmaster General, were broadcast over local or even national radio, giving community members unable to attend the CPU events the opportunity to hear their speeches. While some speakers provoked a backlash within the University, town, or region, the CPU rarely failed to gain permission to host a desired guest, thanks in large part to the support of President Graham. Some notable speakers sought by the CPU were President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945), Postmaster General James Farley (1888-1976), and Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky (1879-1940).

Photograph of Carolina Political Union Executive Committee

Photograph, Carolina Political Union Executive Committee, Yackety Yack, 1937, North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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This 1937 photograph of the Carolina Political Union Executive Committee was the first appearance of the CPU in the UNC-Chapel Hill yearbook, the Yackety Yack.

Pamphlet, “CPU Does Not Stand for Communist Party of the University…,”

Pamphlet, Carolina Political Union, circa 1950. Carolina Forum of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Records #40144, University Archives, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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This pamphlet advertises the activities of the Carolina Political Union. From the pamphlet:

"No, Carolina Political Union Is Not in the RED. On the Contrary, We Are Very Much in Business...

... Our Business is POLITICS."

Photograph of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Clyde R. Hoey, and Frank Porter Graham.

Photograph, Franklin D. Roosevelt (left), Governor Clyde Hoey (center), and UNC President Frank Porter Graham (right), 1938. State Archives, North Carolina Division of Archives and History, Raleigh, N.C.

 

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The Carolina Political Union commemorated the third anniversary of their founding with a program in December 1938 featuring the President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt. The event was held in Woollen Gymnasium (due to rain) and was broadcast over national radio.

After introductions by the Chairman of the CPU, the Governor of North Carolina, and President Graham, Roosevelt addressed a crowd of over twelve thousand people, composed of University students and faculty, high-school students, CPU sponsors, and community members. Roosevelt spoke in defense of liberal policies and made mention of the role of youth in shaping the future of the country, referring to UNC as "representative of liberal teaching."

Letter, Franklin D. Roosevelt to Frank Porter Graham

Letter, Franklin D. Roosevelt to Frank Porter Graham, 1938. Office of President of the University of North Carolina (System): Frank Porter Graham Records #40007, University Archives, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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In this letter from President Roosevelt to UNC President Frank Porter Graham, dated April 5, 1938, Roosevelt writes that he is "unusually interested in the cordial invitation" to make the anniversary address at the Carolina Political Union. However, he writes, he can't make any commitments for out-of-town engagements and "will see if he can be with you" "just as soon as there is a little more certainty about my future plans."

Photograph of Clyde R. Hoey and James Farley

Photograph, North Carolina Governor Clyde Hoey (left) and Postmaster General James Farley, 1937. Carolina Forum of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Records #40144, University Archives, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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A Roosevelt appointee, Postmaster James Farley was a controversial figure in 1937 due to his public support of the President's "court-packing" plan to add justices to the Supreme Court. In addition, Farley had played a major role in forging the New Deal Coalition, a voting bloc that that brought together farmers, labor unions, and religious and ethnic minorities.

His visit and speech supporting President Roosevelt received some backlash from the community, but had the support of the University administration and North Carolina's governor, Clyde Hoey. This photograph was taken during Postmaster General Farley's visit to Chapel Hill to speak before the Carolina Political Union.

Letter, Jeanette Dunseith to the Carolina Political Union, 14 May 1937, Philadelphia, Penn.

Letter, Jeanette Dunseith to the Carolina Political Union, 1937. Frank C. P. McGlinn papers #4685, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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The Carolina Political Union received this letter after Postmaster General Farley's visit and speech supporting court packing. The writer expresses concern regarding Farley's "threatening speech," and questions why the event was allowed to occur at UNC when a North Carolina senator had expressed opposition to court-packing.

Letter, Leon Trotsky to Alexander Heard, 13 August 1937, Coyoacán, D.F., Mexico.

Letter, Leon Trotsky to CPU Chairman Alexander Heard, 1937. Carolina Forum of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Records #40144, University Archives, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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In this letter, Trotsky accepts the Carolina Political Union's invitation to speak at Chapel Hill, on the condition that a travel visa could be secured for him to visit the United States.

Newspaper, “Trotsky Barred From Speaking Here,” The Daily Tar Heel, 19 September 1937, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Newspaper, "Trotsky Barred From Speaking Here," Daily Tar Heel, 19 September 1937. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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A September 19, 1937 headline of the UNC student newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel, announces the news that the Carolina Political Union had failed in their efforts to bring Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky to speak on campus. From the article:

"After accepting the union's invitation to speak here, Trotsky was barred from entering the country by Secretary of State Cordell Hull, who stated in a letter to Heard that the Russian communist, now living in exile in Mexico, was classed as an undesirable because of his 'known beliefs, activities, and advocations.'"