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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Anne Queen, November 22, 1976. Interview G-0049-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The Michael Paul controversy at UNC in the 1960s

Queen briefly describes the Michael Paul controversy at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill during the 1960s. Queen knew Paul, a fellow faculty member, through their work with Upward Bound. Sometime during the 1960s, Paul became the target of community members who believed that the material he taught his students in literature class was too controversial. Ultimately, he was dismissed from his position. Her comments reveal tensions between campus politics and those of the community during the 1960s.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Anne Queen, November 22, 1976. Interview G-0049-2. 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

I was so impressed with what had happened in this experience that I came back to Chapel Hill, and the Y just happened to get some information sent to us by a student who had been active in the Y and was then working for the Anti-Poverty Program in Washington. And she sent me some material announcing the possibility of the Upward Bound program on campuses. Nancy Elkins and then Jean Luker came the next year, and we helped organize the Upward Bound. Michael Paul was one of the teachers, and that's how I got to know Michael. He was one of the teachers in Upward Bound, but just a brilliant teacher, and he really cared about his students. I've never seen anyone who could bring students out more than Michael could. And he was doing graduate work in Old English, but he was teaching as an instructor teaching freshman English. And he had his students to read Marvell's poem "To His Coy Mistress." And a student in the class, his mother …
These are freshman students.
Freshman students. He was also editor of the Carolina Quarterly, and Leon Rooks had written an article in the Carolina Quarterly which was pretty sexy, and somehow Helms got hold of the Carolina Quarterly. I think the student's mother got that to him and then talked with Helms about the assignment to read "To His Coy Mistress." And Helms started a campaign against Paul, and Michael Paul was relieved of his instructor responsibilities.
In the middle of the term.
In the middle of the term, yes. And I don't think I've ever seen an issue where one person… Actually there were two people on the committee. A committee was formed to investigate the Michael Paul case, and of course you knew it became a nationwide case. But all of the networks had people here to interview Paul and interview people in the administration. And Michael was a very shy person, and he didn't like this publicity. All he wanted to do was to get this resolved and get back to teaching. And Dan Pollitt was sort of advising him; he was, I guess, his attorney, in a sense. And he called Dan and said, "Mr. Pollitt, what shall I do? NBC is out here and CBS is out here, and I don't want to go out and talk to them. What shall I do?" And so Dan told him to crawl out the window [laughter] in Bingham. And then he called me that afternoon, and there was a group organized to deliver victory to Michael Paul, and they met in Gerrard Hall. And I can't remember what that group was called, but anyway they had a rally, and Mike said, "I don't want to go. What shall I do?" So I told him to come to my house that night, and I'd have a party for him. And they came over to give him a report later, Darryl Powell, who was a good friend of his. But the administration appointed a committee to make an investigation of the Michael Paul case, and the person who was chairman of that committee was Jim Gaskin. And it was one of the most beautiful reports that I'd ever read. The two of the people that I remember distinctly on the committee and who made a great contribution were Jim Gaskin and Dan Patterson. And there was one sentence in that report that I'll never forget. Jim wrote the report, and he said, "We wish that the people in the administration who made the decision about Mr. Paul's case had had the facts which we have as a basis on which to make their decision, and we don't think it was Mr. Paul's fault that they didn't have the facts."
So that it was someone in South Building who made the decision— before the report, that is—to relieve him of his responsibilities.