Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
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 >>

Various reactions to the Speaker Ban and UNC efforts to challenge it

Pollitt outlines where various prominent North Carolinians and UNC campus officials stood on the issue of the Speaker Ban controversy. Focusing on how the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) sought to monitor the situation leading up to the next legislative session in 1965, Pollitt argues that the General Assembly was eventually swayed to repeal the ban when the Southern Association of Colleges and Universities threatened to repeal accreditation of North Carolina schools. At the same time, however, the General Assembly urged the trustees of each university to adopt similar regulations for speakers. Students and faculty who opposed the ban continued to fight against the new regulations, which Pollitt illustrates in his description of the re-extended invitation to Herbert Aptheker.

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

So in any event, the decision really was to appeal to the people of the state to influence their legislators to repeal the law when they met again in 1965. What we did, and the AAUP, was to keep the pot boiling and we would find that whenever somebody would decline an invitation. There was a very famous British physicist who was invited to speak at State and earlier somebody had asked him if he was a Communist and he told them it was none of their business. So State cancelled. Then there was some Russian surgeon who was a kidney expert, or liver. I forget. He came over and they said it was okay for him to perform an operation and people can watch, but he's not to say anything. Not for speaking purposes. You know, is he speaking when he takes out a liver? So we kept track of all those things and our membership went from a hundred to six hundred; our paid dues, you know. It was exciting. Then other things sort of came along. Bill Friday and Bill Aycock was the Chancellor and Frank Graham and the AAUP and Paul Green, the playwright. He was invited to give the University Day address and he spoke about the Speaker Ban. Frank Porter Graham was invited to give the graduation address and he spoke about the Speaker Ban, so it was never far from the headlines. But the decision was to wait. So Ken Peniger and I were going to represent the students. They decided they'd go along with the wisdom of our betters. We dropped that for . I didn't think we really made much headway. Jesse Helms was for the Speaker Ban and he was then at WRAL and he had a five minute news thing and he kept saying we got to keep the Communists out. The leaders of the legislature were for it and the respectable people laid low. They didn't say yes or no and I didn't think anything would happen until the Southern Association of Colleges and Universities said that we might lose our accreditation because we had lost control; the Universities had lost control. The legislature had taken over saying who can come to the campuses, so we would no longer be a reputable institution because we didn't have institutional control. At first people said, "So what? Who cares? We're not going to be intimidated by an outside agency." Then it turned out we'd lose our ROTC and NROTC and we might lose our football schedules. Ahha! So we got to do something. And that's what precipitated the action. It wasn't Frank Graham or Paul Green or Bill Friday. It was this, that we might lose our accreditation and we would not be able to compete in the athletic field and we would not get grants and all that. So the governor decided to…. I think we had a new governor by '64, who appointed the Britt Commission headed by Mr. Britt to have hearings across the state and to report back with recommendations. Well, there were statewide hearings and they were televised statewide. They had them in Wilmington and Raleigh and Greensboro and Asheville and round about. The American Legion guys spoke for it and Bobby Morgan spoke for it and Jesse Helms spoke for it. Thad Eure spoke for it. Against it was the AAUP and the Faculty Councils of each college. Bill Van Alstein at Duke gave a good statement. And then the recommendation of the Britt Commission was that they turn institutional control back to the colleges. So this was not going to be unaccreditated.
ANN MCCOLL:
So it's the Trustees that make a decision?
DANIEL POLLITT:
Yes. But then they urged all the Trustees to adopt regulations restricting or limiting or governing the outside speakers. So that was passed by the legislation.
ANN MCCOLL:
This was in 1965?
DANIEL POLLITT:
This was 1965. We had the '63 session which passed it. Then we had the Britt Commission in '65. The legislature said, "We'll turn it all over to the Trustees of the Universities and they will adopt regulations." The law was that they will adopt regulations governing the speeches of known Communists, those who plead the Fifth Amendment, those who advocate the overthrow of the government by unlawful means. So they repeated the language of the Speaker Ban Law and said there ought to be regulations and that it has to be on rare occasions and only when it's educationally necessary or something like that. So I turned back to the Trustees. Well, immediately the SDS, Students for Democratic Society, invited Apthecker to come to the campus. Aptheker had been invited to the University of New York in Buffalo and they turned him down; they filed a law suit and he won. He'd been invited to Wayne State in Michigan and while the invitation was issued the Michigan Senate adopted a resolution urging the President to cancel. Well, the President said, "No, we're not going to cancel. This is a free institution and we're searching the truth," and so on. So Aptheker was known and his daughter, Betina Apthecker, was a leader of the Free Speech movement at Berkeley. So she had been on the podium and in the news and she had been invited to Alabama and Troy State and they turned her away. They wouldn't let her speak, whereupon she became someone you'd invite, so Herbert, the father and Betina, the daughter were logical people. I talked to him on the phone. He called me and he says, "I've got this invitation to come speak there and if you just want a law suit, I'll come. But I'm not going to go to jail. I'm not coming down there to go to jail. I want that understood. So I'm not going to violate any trespass laws or do anything like that." And I said, "No, you don't have to." Hopefully, you'll get permission. Well, the SDS then went to Chancellor Sharpe. We had Paul Sharpe as our Chancellor then. He succeeded Bill Aycock. Paul Sharpe was a good guy and he said, "Sure, be glad to have him" He wrote a letter to Bill Friday saying, "You ought to know that I told the students they could have Apthecker. And what I'm going to do," he said, "We need a senior professor to sit on the platform and there has to be an opportunity for questions and there has to be a rebuttal sometime in the not too far future." So those were the three requirements. He was going to have Henry Brandis as senior professor to make sure that Apthecker doesn't incite people to burning the old well or something. So Bill Friday immediately told the governor.
ANN MCCOLL:
That was Governor Moore?
DANIEL POLLITT:
Yes, Dan K. Moore. At that time we had one group of Trustees for the University of North Carolina which was State and Chapel Hill and Greensboro. The Governor was the chairman ex officio of the Board of Trustees for these three institutions. So Dan K. Moore, the Governor, as the Chairman of the Trustees said, "You can't have him." And he said that, "We haven't really got our regulations together yet," is what he said, "So we can't say yes or we can't say no, but we're saying no because we can't say yes." So Apthecker was turned down by Governor Moore. He met with the Executive Board and there were ten on the Executive Board and then there were a hundred members, one from each county. It was a very prestigious thing. They'd meet once a year and the Executive Board ran things. So the hundred met and they had agreed on the regulations which the Executive Board had said that there has to be a senior professor present and so on. So then Paul Sharpe moved on. He was here two years during the Speaker Ban Controversy and he had okayed Apthecker and he got the rejection. What happened sort of, is that the Duke students, naturally, invited Aptheker to come for that date and President Knight at Duke said, "We'd be happy to have him." So he spoke at Duke to a large turn out crowd. So then the Trustees adopted the regulations and this time the campus leaders decided they would invite him.