Speaker Ban Law

In 1963, the North Carolina General Assembly passed the Speaker Ban law, an effort to prevent communists from appearing on state-owned college and university property. The law was passed Speaker Ban Lawsuddenly and without legislative debate, so the origins of the law remain relatively obscure. There were many civil-rights demonstrations going on in 1963, and while these demonstrations were not known to be communist-inspired, some legislators tended to see communism behind racial unrest. Nor did it help, from the point of view of legislators, that some UNC professors and students were involved with the demonstrations.

William Billingsley's book, Communists on Campus, state that the passage of the Speaker Ban was racially motivated. According to Billingsly, "The presence of a small but vocal group of students identifying themselves as Marxist-Leninists committed to a socialist agenda was essential to the re-enactment of a Red Scare episode in North Carolina." This refers to the few students at UNC-Chapel Hill who belonged to the Progressive Labor (PL) group organization, who split off from the Communist Party after rejecting their former comrades for being too conservative.

In place of the Speaker Ban, the UNC administration advocated an open-forum policy that would provide that recognized student groups could invite speakers of all political backgrounds. The only constraints were that the speaker could be required to answer questions from the audience; the meeting might have to be presided over by a faculty moderator, and the speaker might be balanced out with speakers of contrary views. The legislature, however, thought this policy provided too much free speech, so Leo Jenkins, president of East Carolina College in Greenville, proposed a compromise: to allow communists and other extremist speakers to appear on campus only when it would serve the interests of education, not of America's enemies.

In 1966, the campus chapter of Students for a Democratic Society invited Herbert Aptheker and Frank Wilkinson to speak at UNC-Chapel Hill. Aptheker, an avowed communist, was just getting back from a trip to North Vietnam with peace activists and denounced the war effort. Despite FBI pressure to keep Aptheker and Wilkinson from speaking on campus, President William Friday tried to persuade the University's trustees to let them speak. The trustees voted to let the chancellors decide. The administration interpreted this vote to mean that they should be banned, so the speakers addressed students over the wall on the perimeter of the campus. After a subsequent lawsuit by students and the banned speakers, the Speaker Ban Law was declared unconstitutional in 1968.

From Longley, Maximilian. "Speaker Ban Law Continues to Resonate." Metro Magazine. July 2005.