Speaker Ban Roiled UNC-Chapel Hill Campus

Frank Wilkinson speaks to UNC students from the Franklin Street sidewalk in March 1966. Image from the State Archives and copyright News and Observer.On June 25, 1963, on the last day of the session, the General Assembly rushed through the Speaker Ban law.

The bill, formally known as Act to Regulate Visiting Speakers, prohibited speeches on state campuses by members of the Communist Party, persons advocating overthrow of the state or federal constitution and individuals who had pleaded the Fifth Amendment about related topics.

The target of the ban was UNC-Chapel Hill. In many people’s minds, UNC was associated with liberals, the left and Communism. In the weeks before the vote, students from Chapel Hill carried their protests about civil rights to the Capitol and the Sir Walter Raleigh Hotel, where most lawmakers lived while in session.

The General Assembly’s Speaker Ban Study Committee meets in August 1965. Image from the State Archives and copyright News and Observer.The reaction of the campus to the ban was one of surprise and outrage. There were also fears that the school might lose its accreditation. UNC President William Friday, supported by the trustees and student leaders, used his skills to seek repeal or modification of the law. The heart of the matter was the First Amendment and the importance of open debate and free thinking in a democracy.

In 1968, a three-judge federal district court ruled the measure unconstitutional and a violation of free speech rights.

Check out the Speaker Ban Collection in the digital collections of the State Archives and State Library to explore newspapers clips, audio recordings, photographs and other interesting primary materials related to the law.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.