Reaction to the Speaker Ban
Reaction to the passage of the law was swift. Proponents did not believe that state-owned property should be used to host communist speakers or that college-age students should be exposed to communist ideas. They painted anybody opposed to the law as communists. Opponents argued that their objection to the law had nothing to do with supporting communism. On the contrary, they believed that "the free flow of ideas" afforded the greatest protection against communism and argued that the purpose of a higher education is to afford students the freedom of inquiry.
UNC officials and faculty repudiated the law. They questioned its constitutionality and the harm it did to the university’s academic mission by not allowing scholars from any communist nation to speak on campus.
Perhaps the most damning response was from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. They threatened the loss of accreditation since the law interfered with the authority of the Board of Trustees by removing its ability to create policy.
Despite efforts to minimize this threat, it was not taken lightly. Although Governor Moore did not support efforts to amend the law in the 1965 legislative session, he recommended the appointment of a commission chaired by State Representative David M. Britt to examine the issues involved.
William B. Aycock was Professor of Law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and served as its Chancellor from 1957-1964. When the Speaker Ban Law was passed in June 1963, Aycock immediately became an unrelenting and vociferous critic, embarking on a campaign to educate the people of North Carolina on the absurdity of the law and making speeches about its threat to academic freedom. On more than one occasion, his actions were denounced, but Aycock continued fighting, explaining eloquently the flaws with the law and its threat to freedom. It was Aycock who is credited with demonstrating in his many speeches the law’s vagueness, the issue on which the lawsuit was based and the law was ultimately overturned.
Before he became a conservative icon in the U.S. Senate, Jesse Helms was on the staff of WRAL Television and served as an editorialist. Helms was a frequent critic of UNC’s liberalism and delivered many editorials accusing UNC of being a breeding ground for communist and subversive activities with its support for communist-oriented student organizations and its welcoming attitude towards “every conceivable type of extreme leftwinger.” Not surprisingly, he was a strong supporter of the Speaker Ban Law. In fact, it was one of his editorials, like the one above, about a similar law that had passed in Ohio that encouraged the sponsors of the North Carolina bill.
The Britt Commission, chaired by State Representative David M. Britt, was established on June 16, 1965 by the North Carolina General Assembly to hold hearings and submit a report with recommendations to the governor.
The Britt Commission issued its report on November 5, 1965 and recommended a compromise that would return the power to regulate campus speakers to the Board of Trustees but still keep the restrictions outlined in the Speaker Ban Law.
William C. Friday, president of the Consolidated University of North Carolina, testified in front of the Britt Commission on September 8, 1965. He encouraged restoring the authority of regulating campus speakers to the Board of Trustees. Friday had to walk a fine line between protecting the University's institutional interests and maintaining academic freedom.
Robert Spearman, the student body president at UNC-Chapel Hill from 1964-1965, also testified to the commission and repudiated the accusation that a student had to be a liberal to succeed at the University.
In this video recording, William C. Friday and Robert Spearman speak to the Britt Commission.
UNC Assistant Professor of Russian History Clifford M. Foust wrote this letter to Chancellor Aycock vehemently opposing the Speaker Ban. From the letter:
"Simply, this law represents precisely that policy of personal and social insulation and parochialism we so abhor in the Soviet world. It is of more than passing interest to observe those American politicians and publicists who righteously adopt the very weapons of the enemy in presuming to effectively combat pernicious movements and ideas."
Gladys Allison, a committee chair with the YWCA cabinet also wrote a letter to the Chancellor about what she terms the "gag law."
UNC senior Bill Dale recorded "The Speaker Ban Ballad" in November 1966. Dale, an English major from Asheville, had been singing professionally for about six months when he recorded the song.