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Student Protest Movements at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Speaker Ban (1963-1966)

The Speaker Ban Controversy

The "Act to Regulate Visiting Speakers" was passed by the North Carolina State Legislature in June 1963. The law specified that known members of the Communist Party, or those who had pleaded the Fifth Amendment when asked under oath if they were Communists, would not be permitted to speak at any of North Carolina's state-sponsored institutions. Many students, faculty, and administrators saw the bill as a direct attack on free speech and academic freedom on the UNC campuses. The law was challenged on several occasions, most notably when Herbert Aptheker and Frank Wilkinson spoke from a Franklin Street sidewalk to students gathered on campus on the other side of a low stone wall. A North Carolina court overturned the law in 1968.


photograph of people talking in a group

Aptheker, Herbert, Communist party member, delivered anti-Vietnam lecture under Speaker Ban, 9 March 1966, by Jock Lauterer, in the Jock Lauterer Photographic Collection #P0069, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Archival Resources

Archival materials are an excellent resource for researchers interested in the Speaker Ban Law and the protests that erupted as a result of its passage. The UNC-Chapel Hill University Archives and the Southern Historical Collection, both located in Wilson Library, contain a wealth of primary source material on this subject. The following are just a few examples of the archival resources that can be found on this subject. 

Office of the Chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: William Brantley Aycock Records, 1957-1964 

Records include correspondence and other files relating to the administration of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill during William B. Aycock's tenure as chancellor. In particular, the records include administrative files on the Speaker Ban Law as well as Aycock's speeches and response to the controversy. 

J. Gordon Hanes Papers on the Speaker Ban Study Commission, 1963, 1964-1965

J. Gordon Hanes was a member of the Speaker Ban Study Commission. This collection includes transcripts of testimony given at public hearings, papers pertaining to a special session of the General Assembly, items concerned with regulations of the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees, and notes taken by Hanes at the time. 

McNeill Smith Papers, 1937-1999 

McNeill Smith was a lawyer, state legislator, and teacher in North Carolina. He was the attorney for the University of North Carolina students in the 1963 Speaker Ban case. The collection includes materials related to the case as well as materials related to academic freedom and freedom of speech more broadly. 

Office of the Chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Paul Frederick Sharp Records, 1964-1966

Records include correspondence and other files relating to the administration of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill during Paul Sharp's tenure as chancellor. Of particular interest are the materials related to the Speaker Ban controversy including news clippings and administrative files. 

Southern Oral History Program Undergraduate Internship Program Fall 2013: The Speaker Ban Activism

Beginning in fall 2012, the Southern Oral History Program has conducted an undergraduate internship program for students to gain experiential education in the intellectual, organizational, and practical work of oral history. Each semester, the interns engage in research by conducting an oral history project, usually related to student activism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Books, Theses, and Articles

Billingsley, William J. Communists on Campus: Race, Politics, and the Public University in Sixties North Carolina. 1999. C378 UE65. 

Billingsley's book provides a good overview of the Speaker Ban Controversy from the inception of the bill to court battles and negotiations between politicians and UNC administrators to the eventual dismissal of the law. University President William Friday and campus protests figure prominently in the discussion, as does television commentator Jessie Helms, whose increasing political influence becomes evident during the Speaker Ban debate. The book includes photographs. 

Grimsley, Joseph Wayne Jr. Challenges to the N.C. Speaker Ban Law, 1963-1968. 1994. C379.9 N87g1

Grimsley's thesis examines the origins of the Speaker Ban Law from its passage in 1963 to its demise in 1968. Grimsley discusses several factors related to the law including the political context of 1960s North Carolina, similar speech bans elsewhere in the nation, civil rights activities, and the broader fear of Communism.  

Stewart, William. The North Carolina Speaker Ban Law Episode: Its History and Implications for Higher Education. 1988. C378.9 S852n

Stewart's dissertation examines the history of the Speaker Ban Law and the controversy surrounding the law's enactment at the time. In addition, Stewart looks at the long term impact of the law on the state of North Carolina, higher education more broadly, and the University of North Carolina System. 

Link, William. "William Friday and the North Carolina Speaker Ban Crisis, 1963-1968." North Carolina Historical Review 72, no. 2 (April 1995), pp. 198-228. Cp970 N87hi v.72 no.2 

Link's article discusses the role of University of North Carolina System President William Friday in the controversy surrounding the Speaker Ban Law during the 1960s. Link discusses the hostility that many prominent North Carolinians felt toward UNC-Chapel Hill, the reaction of university administration to the law's passage as well as the relationship between the administration and the student protesters on campus. 

Kindem, Gorham. Beyond the Wall [video recording]. 2003. DVD C378 UE2 

This video tells the story of the Speaker Ban Law in North Carolina through the use of archival footage and interviews with former faculty members, students, administrators, and politicians. 

Library of Congress Subject Headings