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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 >>

Developing a lawsuit to challenge Speaker Ban regulations

Pollitt discusses his involvement in the UNC law suit to challenge the Speaker Ban regulations. He begins by describing the deposition of Chancellor Carlysle Sitterson before describing how Herbert Aptheker was finally brought to speak at UNC as a basis for the lawsuit. Ultimately, the lawsuit was dismissed when the Speaker Ban was determined to be "unconstitutionally vague."

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

Well, we filed the lawsuit and then we took depositions and we took Sitterson's deposition. I went with Mac Smith to the Chancellor's office and they had the Attorney General and the state had hired Arch T. Allen who was a lawyer in Raleigh. [Phone ringing] We were taking the deposition. Arch T. Allen was retained by the University to represent Sitterson and so on. Wade Bruton the Attorney General was there and somebody else.
ANN MCCOLL:
So they were taking this as a big deal?
DANIEL POLLITT:
Oh, yes indeed. We spent a whole morning interrogating Sitterson and it was very embarrassing for him because we had his Phi Beta Kappa speech where he had lambasted the Speaker Ban Law and he had been in the Tarheel two or three times as the dean, you know, and he kept saying, "Sure I'm in favor of free speech and if I had my druthers I would do it," and "No, I thought President Knight at Duke was absolutely correct when he let Aptheker in," and Singletary at UNCG, you know, gave a statement, "Yeah, I agree with his statement. I don't disagree with it." And his lawyers were telling him not to be so give away like, you know. But then he kept insisting that he had no discretion because Governor Moore had ruled on Aptheker. The poor guy was squirming there.
ANN MCCOLL:
What about their decision about Frank Wilkinson? Did he also think that what Governor Moore said about Aptheker applied to him?
DANIEL POLLITT:
Applied to Wilkinson, too.
ANN MCCOLL:
Because they were both Communist?
DANIEL POLLITT:
No, Wilkinson had pleaded the fifth. So he might have been invited in the first round. Well, in any event, they wouldn't let them come. Before the law suit we had the speech. I had to create the controversy. So the students invited Aptheker and he came to the campus on Franklin Street. Paul Dixon was there and the vice president and whatever, and they escorted him to the Southern Soldier where he was to…. Sitterson had turned him down, so they brought him and they took him to the campus and they took him to the Southern Soldier monument and Paul Dixon said, "Ladies and gentlemen, we have Herbert Aptheker here to speak to us and Mr. Baumont who was the chief security man, had walked in and he said, "That's far enough kid," or something like that. He said, "Mr. Aptheker, you're not allowed to use this campus for speaking purposes. Now, you can stay here as long as you want as long as you don't speak." So Aptheker said, "Thank you very much," and they turned and then walked off and Aptheker got on the sidewalk right on the edge of campus. There's the stone wall. That was the Dan K. Moore wall, like the Berlin Wall. It had big signs, "Dan K. Moore Wall." And Aptheker spoke across the wall to people for ten minutes and they had, I don't know, two thousand or three thousand, the whole lawn was packed as far as you could see.
ANN MCCOLL:
So the students were on the campus. He just spoke over the wall.
DANIEL POLLITT:
Yes. And they were in trees. He was introduced as a Lieutenant in the Army and somebody shouted, "The Soviet Army?" He'd been a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army. It was very good natured and spirits were high. Then he went to the Hillel House, the Jewish religious house, to speak to those who wanted to hear him speak about race and Viet Nam. He'd been to Viet Nam on an illegal trip with Jane Fonda or somebody. So he talked about Viet Nam. Then a week later we had Frank Wilkinson and went through the whole charade again. This time he went to the Community Church to speak. He spoke about the House Committee on Unamerican Activities; gave a good speech. I don't want to drag this on too long. But the suit was filed and they moved to dismiss because it was moot and it wasn't in faith and it wasn't this and it wasn't that and there were a lot of counter motions. Then the day came for the oral argument and they met in Greensboro.
ANN MCCOLL:
What court was this?
DANIEL POLLITT:
It was a three judge Federal court. The allegation was that the state law is unconstitutional. You get a three judge court and direct appeal to the Supreme Court. My mind goes. McNeil Smith had spent the night before the argument with Frank Porter Graham and Frank Porter Graham told him a story that when Frank Porter Graham had been an undergraduate here which was, I don't know, 1912 or something like that, that the students had invited Senator Butler who was the United States Senator. Butler was a Republican and was a hang over from the Reconstruction period and that the president had vetoed it and said, "You can't have a Republican on this campus." So Frank Porter Graham and…. And he had a list. Frank John Parker, who later went on the Fourth Circuit and was nominated to the Supreme Court and whoever it was who at that moment was the chief judge of the North Carolina Supreme Court and four or five others who are all very prominent, led a parade of students to the President's house with torches, you know, a torch light parade, demanding that he permit the Republican Senator appear on the campus. So Mac Smith reserved that for his rebuttal, his closing argument, to say that, you know, only once out of every fifty years do we have this, but he was saying that the students has responded responsibly and if they had gone through the whole process, made their petitions, collected their information and then when all else failed, they come to the courts. They had not demonstrated and they had not sat in and this was not like Berkeley or Columbia or any of those places. This was a responsible group of young men. And at that time this was a men's school. And then he says, . The thing is that the Senator's nephew was one of the three judges. Butler. Judge Butler. So we'd gone over the oral argument several times.
ANN MCCOLL:
Did you at this time know that he was the nephew?
DANIEL POLLITT:
Oh, yes, we knew that and we knew what Mac was going to say. "Where do we work this in? Should we open with this argument?" And we said, "No, no. We got to save this." And we don't come back with any law. We come back with a story. I was watching the judge. We had Haynesworth, the chief judge in the Fourth Circuit was presiding, and Butler and some other Federal judge and I was watching Butler. [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
DANIEL POLLITT:
The law was unconstitutionally vague. We won it on the of vagueness which means you can go back and do it over again.
ANN MCCOLL:
Were you all concerned that that might happen?
DANIEL POLLITT:
Well, I was. But it had been five years and people were ready to move on and so nothing happened. The state didn't even appeal to the Supreme Court. They just dropped it and that was the end of it. But then we thought, "By God, we've got to get them back. We won the right to have them." So, we decided to have an AAUP meeting, because the students were no longer interested, and invite them back. So, I called Aptheker and said, "Can you come back and give a speech?" He had been a plaintiff. He and Wilkinson were plaintiffs with the students, so their right to speak and our right to hear. I said, "We won the law suit. How about coming back and giving your talk?" And he says, "Is there any problem?" And I said, "No. No problem at all." He said, "Well, I don't have time to come down and give a talk to you people." So he wouldn't come. Then I called Frank Wilkinson and he said he could work it in. He was on a tour about the House Committee on Unamerican Activities. So he agreed to come and we had it at the Journalism Building at their great, big auditorium which seats a couple of hundred. Present were seventeen. There was me and my wife and Bill Van Alstein and his wife and MacNeil Smith and his wife and Ann Queen who was the head of the YMCA at the time and an ACLU guy, Joe Felmett from Winston Salem and a couple of SBI agents, two camera men from WRAL and somebody from the News and Observer.
ANN MCCOLL:
So did they report on the story?
DANIEL POLLITT:
Oh, yes. They didn't play it up the way I remember it. I thought, "My God, we have two or three thousand students out there to hear him when they can't hear him and here's their chance to hear him and nobody cares. But that's a lesson. You can let anybody speak and it's not going to damage the University or if there is going to be damage it's not worth preserving. So that's the real lesson out of all this.