Speaker Ban Law Was Not Our State's Finest Hour
History has a way of turning around and kicking us in the butt.
The Speaker Ban Law of 1963 had mercifully escaped memory until I learned that a marker is being erected on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus to honor students who opposed the law.
The infamous statute made it through the legislature in an era when Americans were still so sensitive about communism that we would embrace any bigot, despot or looney leader declaring opposition to a political system that few of us really understand.
I picked up my degree in journalism at UNC in 1954, long before imposition of the speaker ban. Nevertheless, anti-communism hysteria was very much in vogue. Apparently U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy had done an exceptional job of scaring us into believing that communists were lurking under every bush and, further, that they represented a greater danger to the "American Way of Life" than original sin or the plague.
Students were more naive in those days. I grew up in a relatively protected environment on an eastern North Carolina farm. I can assure you no communists were hiding in those tobacco fields. To be honest, most of my friends were interested in almost everything except communism.
We cast curious eyes at -complimentary copies of the Daily Worker occasionally placed in our campus mailboxes and thought we were living dangerously when we walked past a downtown business rumored to be operated by a you know what. Mostly we wanted to learn -something, make good grades and have a little fun. Back in those days male students outnumbered females at least 10 to one.
In two years at Carolina, despite all the rumors, I did not meet a single communist, much less engage any such godless individual in conversation.
The Chapel Hill campus has always been regarded as a hotbed of liberalism and ideologues, so it's not surprising that state legislators were stirred to action when two suspicious characters were allowed to speak on university property.
One was Herbert Aptheker, a member of the Communist Party. Now this Aptheker chap was a Communist with a capital letter. That means he was a member of the political party, such as we capitalize Republican and Democrat. People who simply espouse the concept of communism are communists with a small cee.
Surely, our noble legislators must have thought, we must -protect our innocent young -students from such naughty -influences.
Maybe they had a point at that. Spending too much time studying communism took away valuable time better spent -pursuing the opposite sex or the popular firewater of the day and, of course, studying.
Under the ban, students were deprived of the opportunity to hear a number of distinguished Americans. Among them was Pulitzer-winning playwright Arthur Miller, whose drama "The Crucible" about the Salem, Mass., witch trials was interpreted as a parable on McCarthyism.
Word got out that Miller had taken the Fifth Amendment at congressional hearings on -un-American activities. As it turned out, that was not the truth.
On reflection, it seems -improbable that Miller was a communist or a Communist. Not only did his drama "Death of a Salesman" win a Pulitzer, but he was also once married to Marilyn Monroe, movie sex idol of the 1950s. Gee, can you get any more American than that?
The marker, to be dedicated on University Day, Oct. 12, will bear the names of 12 students who brought suit seeking repeal of the Speaker Ban Law.
Incidentally, the law was ruled unconstitutional in 1968, but the legislature didn't get around to repealing it until 1995. Just in time for us to cope with our issues with Islamists.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at email@example.com.
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