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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Daniel H. Pollitt, April 5, 1991. Interview L-0064-7. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Thoughts on the Speaker Ban bill in 1963

Pollitt argues that the Speaker Ban of 1963 was "a result of racism" and that it reflected the anti-intellectual and anti-university sentiments of the North Carolina General Assembly. According to Pollitt, conservative state legislators were disturbed by the flurry of student activism that swept UNC during the early 1960s and when known Communist Herbert Aptheker was invited to speak, they jumped on an opportunity to push through legislation banning such speakers from coming to public universities. In addition, Pollitt describes how the bill was passed on the sly on the last day of the legislative session and caught UNC President William Friday and UNC Chancellor William Aycock by complete surprise.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Daniel H. Pollitt, April 5, 1991. Interview L-0064-7. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

ANN MCCOLL:
When the Speaker Ban Law controversy started?
DANIEL POLLITT:
Yes, that was twenty-seven or something. So my memory has to be refreshed. I have got a drawer full of all the clippings and all the correspondence and everything. I've looked through part of it. So why don't I start off and you interrupt me if I'm getting irrelevant. The Speaker Ban Law, I always thought, was a result of racism. It was 1963 in June and we had had the sit-ins going on in Chapel Hill. The faculty was divided, but there were a lot of faculty who supported the sit-ins and we were raising money for it. We were picketing the two theaters in town which would not admit blacks at all and that was going on every evening from 6:00 to 9:00 or something when people would go. The restaurants were being picketed and the streets were blocked after the Wake Forest game on Saturday afternoon and tied up traffic. There were marches and all sorts of things. This was unpopular in this state. The same was true in Durham and Raleigh and Greensboro and Charlotte. So there was the attack on traditions; segregation. I'm trying to think of the guy's name. He was one of our graduates who then went to Yale law school and then came back here to get a history degree. He was a good friend of…. He wanted to dump Johnson. He became very prominent. He became a Congressman from New York. But he was teaching at State in political science and the Shaw University had invited a Shaw graduate to come and give a major talk there and she was Liberian. She was a Liberian Ambassador to the UN, so Shaw was honoring her. This young instructor at State asked her to come speak to his class and she did. Then he took her to lunch at the Sir Walter. Now at that time Sir Walter was where all the debutante balls were held and a lot of the legislators lived there during the session and the others, they all ate there. That's where they caucused. It was the home for the legislators. Al Lowenstein was his name. Allard Lowenstein. So Al brought in this black woman to have lunch at the sacred place. I always thought Al Lowenstein taking the woman to lunch was what triggered the Speaker Ban Law. That was the final straw. In any event, Thad Eure, who was then the Secretary of State, wrote to Ohio where they were proposing a bill to ban speakers. Namely, Aptheker had been invited to speak out there.
ANN MCCOLL:
And he was a Communist?
DANIEL POLLITT:
He was a very well known Communist and he was on the Communist Central Committee. He was also a historian. He had a lot of authenticity as an historian in the Negro problems in America. That was his specialty. He's spoken here two or three times over the years to the history club.
ANN MCCOLL:
At UNC?
DANIEL POLLITT:
At UNC, and nobody had known it. I mean, you know, it was in the Tarheel, that somebody had spoken to the history club. So in any event, that's my theory. That Thad Eure got the copy of the Ohio bill and then it was introduced; they waited. It was the next to last day of the session and a lot of people had gone home. There was sort of an understanding that you don't do anything on the last two days except to say goodbye and you know, make the last day a camp or something. So they introduced the bill. A guy named Stone was the presiding officer in the Senate and there were a few little opponents who said, "Hey, what the hell are you doing? What is this?" And he wouldn't give them the floor and it was passed on a voice vote. Bobby Morgan, who later became our Attorney General and then our US Senator, was in there fighting for that bill.
ANN MCCOLL:
Did it go through the committee process?
DANIEL POLLITT:
It didn't go anywhere. It was introduced on the floor to not everybody's surprise because obviously the people who were in on it knew it was coming and planned it. But it passed. Bill Friday was then our President and Bill Aycock was our Chancellor and they didn't know about the bill.
ANN MCCOLL:
Had you heard about it?
DANIEL POLLITT:
I hadn't heard. Nobody had heard about it. It was a surprise, a stealth bill.
ANN MCCOLL:
This is fairly irregular, isn't it?
DANIEL POLLITT:
Yes, it's extremely irregular. So that was in June of 1963 that they passed the bill and it became law.
ANN MCCOLL:
Do you think that when it was passed that the people who voted for it understood what it was for?
DANIEL POLLITT:
They knew it was anti-university and it said that nobody who was a known Communist or who has pleaded the fifth amendment before any kind of official body in regards to Communist or subversive activities and the third category is people who advocate the overthrow of the government by force and violence or unlawful means. The people who were in that category were barred from using campus facilities, university campus facilities for speaking purposes. So that was the law and it was anti-university and it was anti-Chapel Hill and it was anti-Al Lowenstein at State and all the black campuses. A&T is the original sit-in; came from the first four freshmen at A&T and N.C. Central and Elizabeth City and Winston Salem State; students were out there sitting in at the restaurants. So this was, "Get these damn college kids." It was anti-intellectualism which is always lurking below the surface. So the law was passed. Bill Friday and Bill Aycock heard it on the radio and they got in the car in Chapel Hill and drove to Raleigh to try to get it reconsidered; rehearing. Let's have a second vote or something. It was too late. Nobody would listen to them. Terry Sanford, I think, was the Governor and he had no veto. He had no veto, so there was nothing he could do except swear a little bit. So that then became the law. Then the question is what to do about it. Bill Aycock and Bill Friday said that what we should do is take it to the people and have the people bring it to the legislature and repeal it. Get it repealed.