Local Politics

Digital collection examines NC's politically charged Speaker Ban Law

Posted June 26, 2013

— Fifty years ago this week, North Carolina lawmakers instituted a state statute that sparked major controversy over academic freedom and the First Amendment.

Adopted June 25, 1963, the Speaker Ban Law – legislation passed on the last day of the legislative session that year – restricted known Communists and other "radicals" from speaking at public universities.

The move outraged educators, including the late William Friday, who served as president of the University of North Carolina system for 30 years.

Students at the university system's flagship campus in Chapel Hill tested the law, inviting banned speakers to campus, some who famously spoke on a public sidewalk on Franklin Street in the mid-1960s.

Now, the State Archives of North Carolina has made it possible with a digital collection to step back in time and relive some of the controversy through audio, photos, letters, telegrams and other documents that were part of a 1965 government-commissioned study on the Speaker Ban law.

"It takes you back to that time period, where you can listen in," Sarah Koonts, director of the North Carolina Division of Archives and Records, said. "It's almost like you're sitting in the room and listening to the hearings."

Historic NC Speaker Ban Law now documented digitally Historic NC Speaker Ban Law now documented digitally

Historians say the collection unlocks an important part of North Carolina's modern history.

"I think it's now viewed as one of the central episodes of the 1960s in North Carolina," said historian Michael Hill. "It really brought to the fore freedom of thought and freedom of speech in this state."

The Speaker Ban Law was eventually overturned by a three-judge federal court in 1968, and the law was repealed in May 1995.

5 Comments

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  • I Love Global Warming Jun 27, 7:10 p.m.

    "restricted known Communists and other "radicals" from speaking at public universities."

    Now the radicals are the ones running the universities. Conservatism is the new Communism according the current university leadership.

  • Rebelyell55 Jun 27, 11:24 a.m.

    Oh my, don't give them folks in Raleigh anymore ideas!!!

  • whatelseisnew Jun 27, 11:14 a.m.

    Odd, why are they not writing a story about how conservative speakers are all but banned and when some of them do get a speaking engagement, the tyrannical lefties on the University strive to silence them instead of listening and perhaps actually learning something useful.

  • monkeyboy Jun 26, 7:40 p.m.

    it outraged William Friday? OH MY GOD, NOT WILLIAM FRIDAY!!! why, the people who did this must be punished to the fullest -

    oh wait. what does it matter if William Friday was outraged? i'd say the people who were most hacked off were the banned speakers themselves...

  • disgusted2010 Jun 26, 6:52 p.m.

    The liberal media can't find enough current scandals so they have to stir a 50 year old pot.