“As the Speaker Ban Study Commission nears the completion of its work, I want you to know that our Department stands ready to be of assistance in connection with the preservation of the records of the Commission. You know better than anyone else the value of these records, including correspondence, and we are confident that historians of the future will find the issue and its solution of great interest.” – From a letter by Christopher Crittenden to David M. Britt, October 29, 1965.
In October of 1965, Christopher Crittenden, then Director of the Department of Archives and History was already well aware that the records of the Speaker Ban Study Commission would be important historical documents. The records illustrate a period in time when fears of Communism came into conflict with the desire for free speech on college campuses and the results inflamed passions and rhetoric on both sides of what we now call “the political divide.”
On June 25, 1963, the Speaker Ban Law was adopted on the last day of the legislative session after just over one hour of debate. It prohibited speeches on North Carolina public college campuses by “known” members of the Communist Party, persons “known” to advocate the overthrow of the constitutions of North Carolina or the United States, or individuals who had pleaded the Fifth Amendment in order to decline answering questions concerning communist subversion. From the moment it was passed, the Speaker Ban Law inspired heated debate on university campuses and living rooms across the state. The controversy was covered not only by local North Carolina media, but also by national and international newspapers and TV news. The chief accrediting body of southern colleges, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, stated that the Speaker Ban interfered with the “necessary authority” of the University of North Carolina administration and thus might be harmful to the university’s academic status. At the request of William C. Friday, president of the University of North Carolina System, newly elected governor Dan Moore proposed that the General Assembly create a Speaker Ban Study Commission to examine the law.
Fifty years later, digitized materials on the Speaker Ban issue are now available through the North Carolina Digital Collections, a joint project of the State Archives and State Library of North Carolina. The new Speaker Ban Law digital collection includes newspaper clippings from the State Library and a variety of resources from the State Archives, including selected commission correspondence, materials from the records of Governors Dan Moore and Robert W. Scott, transcripts of commission meetings, a survey of opinions from members of the public both for and against the law, and News and Observer photographs taken during the controversy. Among the highlights of the new collection are the audio recordings of the meetings of the commission, recorded in 1965 and available digitally for the first time. Although the items in this online collection are only a small sample of the materials available on this subject from the State Archives of North Carolina, they provide a fascinating window into how North Carolinians viewed themselves, their institutions of higher education, and their own roles as citizens in the Cold War era politics of the 1960s.
Special thanks to Aaron Cusick, Francesca Perez, Bill Garrett, Rachel Trent, and Kim Andersen for all their work on this project.
To learn more about the history of the Speaker Ban, read the Speaker Ban Law entry in NCPedia. A blog post about the legal challenge to the Speaker Ban Law is also available on the Department of Cultural Resources blog, This Day in North Carolina History.
To locate other available materials on the Speaker Ban Law, visit the Archives online catalog, MARS. A finding aid for the Speaker Ban Law Study Commission is available at: http://archives.ncdcr.gov/findingaids/pdf/sa_speaker_ban_law_study_commission.pdf.