Raleigh, N.C. — Tuesday marks 50 years since North Carolina's legislature passed one of the 20th century's most ignominious state statutes short of Jim Crow legislation.
The Speaker Ban was a law that prohibited communists and other "radical speakers" from appearing on college campuses supported by state funding.
As summarized by the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources:
On June 25, 1963, the last day of the legislative session, the North Carolina General Assembly passed the Speaker Ban Law. The legislation prohibited speeches on North Carolina public college campuses by “known” members of the Communist Party, persons “known” to advocate the overthrow of North Carolina or the United States, or individuals who had pleaded the Fifth Amendment in order to decline answering questions concerning communist subversion.
It's worth noting that Jesse Helms, not yet a U.S. senator, regularly used his "Viewpoint" editorials on WRAL-TV to declaim against those he considered unsavory speakers on campus and a bibliography assembled by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill library shows him editorializing on the ban dozens of times.
Then-UNC President William Friday was a strong opponent of the ban. A federal court eventually struck down the law.
According to the N.C. History Project:
When the federal court decided the Speaker Ban lawsuit in 1968, it found that the law and its implementing regulations were too vague to survive a First Amendment attack. In addition, the court ruled, the restriction on Fifth Amendment pleaders impaired the constitutional privilege against self-incrimination.