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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William C. Friday, November 26, 1990. Interview L-0145. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Background of the Speaker Ban law and UNC's reaction

Friday describes the background of the Speaker Ban crisis. Beginning by emphasizing the University of North Carolina's precedent of honoring academic freedom, Friday explains how the Speaker Ban law was passed by the General Assembly in order to prohibit the presence of radical ideas from being articulated on campus. Friday argues that this policy represented anti-intellectualism and he describes the university's general opposition to the law.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William C. Friday, November 26, 1990. Interview L-0145. 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

WILLIAM LINK:
I'd like to talk today about the Speaker Ban, and your handling of that academic crisis. Let's start first by talking a little about the background, before the law was actually passed in June 1963. For example, what sorts of policy decisions have been made towards speakers, at the University prior to 1963.
WILLIAM C. FRIDAY:
We had established the policy of academic freedom, which is the one that's traditionally that of any major university in the United States. In fact, I have looked at quite a few of them, they were Trustees when they first qualified the code of the University had carried forward in the laws of the institution. A very full and complete statement about academic freedom that was drawn-up by Victor Bryant. The idea there was to codify what was, at that time, a common law tradition, so that everybody in any one of the campuses would know exactly where they stood. What rights were there. What guarantees were there. And the Board adopted that, and its in every document that I've seen since then. I believe its still in the codes, if they didn't delete it in the last three [unclear] . As far as I know, we had been following all of the accepted practices. Those were very tense times. As far as I have been toldߞnow, this is all hindsightߞbut, what really went on here was an accumulation of irritations. Not only speaker's, but a lot of the things students were doing, at the time. The post-World War II tensions, and anxieties that were in the air. The racial problem that was so much upon us in the '50s. The Brown decision. Petitions for admission to the University here. The undergraduate, and graduate applications that went to court. All of those things created an atmosphere that people who were a lot more conservative, and a lot more anti-university. I don't mean that in a sense of anti-Chapel Hill, so much, but anti-intellectualism. You see this periodically in the country, about every twenty-five years. Well, they had been talking among themselves, apparently, and of course, none of this got to us, because they wouldn't let us know anything. And we had been merrily going along through this session. And we came up to the very last week, literally the last week, and I was sitting in my office one afternoon, about this time, and I got a phone call from one of the fellows over there from the Institute of Governor's State. Said, "Did you know about this bill?" And I said, "What bill?" And he read it to me. And I said, "Read it again." And he did. And I said, "I'll be right over there." And Fred Weaver was working with me at the time. And I got in the car and drove straight way to Raleigh. And walked in the lobby of the Sir Walter, and I was met at the door, right at the main entrance of the lobby there, Hathaway Cross, who was a lobbyist at that time, and he said, "What are you doing over here?" And I said, "You know full well what I'm doing over here. I came over here to tell you what you were doing to the University, with this kind of legislation." And Clarence Stone was then the President Pro-tem of the Senate, and they had great irritation with me. They just dressed me down for showing any resistance to it. And said I should leave this matter alone. It's a legislative question and not bother it. It was there business to set state policy's about matters like these. Well, we got to work, and over nightߞand we worked literally all night longߞto force a reversal of this, and came within four votes of doing it. I think it was twenty-three to nineteen, I think, the next day of the Senate. But the thing that was so bad about this experience was, that here was a piece of legislation, that was never filed in the traditional way. That the people were not given notice of the law. There were no notices given to anybody that was impacted by the law. There was no schedule of hearing about the law. The rules were suspended. And the bill was enacted under suspension of rules for three readings. All at the same time. A very craftily, engineered piece of legislation, that swept through there. And we tried our best to reverse it the next day. And came that close to doing it. But that was a very bitter experience to have to go through. And then set off all kinds of controversy. Faculty resolutions, all kinds of student actions, and then the Board itself; especially the Executive Committee, started debating this. We kept bringing it up all the time. Trying to get a new policy. Trying to force a change here, because this was a very humiliating thing to have happened. The difficulty here was that you had to deal with people, in a legislator, who had enacted a piece of legislation. And trying to get them to reverse something, as openly and publicly approved, as this was. And it receivedߞnot from the editor's of the State, but from the public general news, American Legion and all of these people. It was their bill. Great stuff. And it was a long and torturous journey, that led to a special session, a special commission chaired by David Britt, about hearings in Raleigh which, in terms of the University's statement of its case, in my view, was as eloquent a day, as I've ever heard. People like Vermont Royster, William Aycock, a whole parade of people came from everywhere. And all of us made our statements. And all of this was a matter of record, and special publication that came out, at the time. And then they sort of tried to compromise. It became apparent as this worked on, that the only way in the world that this was ever going to end, was with a judicial decree. Because, the trustees, and legislatures, and different administrative agencies can change policies, that can do with or do without, but there's one thing nobody can ask you to do, and that's to disobey the law. And, the then president of the student body, by the time we'd come to this point, a young man named Paul Dixon, and lots of people who are strong liberal bent, didn't feel like we were prosecuting this thing the way it should have been. But I was doing it in a way that I couldn't talk about. And he, Dixon, kept me fully apprised of every move he was making, so that we'd inevitably come to a law suit. Because the Executive Committee, prior to that quite a series of conversations had reversed and turned down a motion that I made, and brought to them, which was the only time in thirty years that the Executive Committee and the Board of Trustees ever turned me away, so to speak. And that was quite a shock. And people like Watts Hill stood with me. But Tom White, and the Eller's felt that they couldn't do it, and they went the other way. And all of that's in the Trustee minutes. It was a sad day. But I knew then that I was faced with the problem where the Legislature had expressed itself. And now here the Executive Committee and the Board, had done itself. And they were pretty much in alliance, in a sense of not completely negating the law, so the only recourse was the courts. And Paul arranged the suit. Then came the situation down here on Franklin Street, and the national humiliation that came from those two men, being on one side of the rock wall, and several thousands of students over on the other side of the rock wall, eighteen inches apart, and the University was pictured all over America. As dramatically as that was that day. I think, really the lesson that was learned from this experience, everybody who was at fault in it. And there were literally hundreds by the time it was over. And you've got to give McNeil Smith a lot of credit here, for working with the students and others. And I couldn't talk with him, butߞfor the obvious reason. But, please note for twenty-five years since that opinion, there have been people on the campuses on the University who were far more contentious, in a sense of who they were as speakers, like Louis Ferrankah, for example. And anybody involved in this series of events leading up to the law. And I tell you, to be salutary that really happened here was that everybody had an enormously intense, but very lasting experience of learning something about freedom. They learned how costly it is to turn it away. And how important it is to absorb it, as a part of the way you live. Now, this had an enormous amount of momentum that generated from all of the facultiesߞsome of them, not everybody. The great and sustaining support from the press of the State. The News and Observer, the Greensboro Daily News, the Charlotte Observer, the Winston-Salem Journal, the High Point papers. All of them rallied behind this. And it took us a long time to pull it off, in a sense of getting it to litigation. Doug and I give McNeil Smith a lot of credit for this. Although I've never discussed it. And when that day came and the decision was rendered, and we were put back to where we were, the University had endured a crises that, I think everybody is stronger in, but its a terrible way to have to learn. And I would hope never would repeat itself again. There was an awful lot of work between the day of the enactment and the day of the decision. And I've telescoped a lot of it, but its so far back, that I can't recall ߞ
WILLIAM LINK:
Sure.
WILLIAM C. FRIDAY:
..to much of it. But I do know those very difficult times.
WILLIAM LINK:
Let me ask you, there are two things that I hear that you partly mentionedߞyou mentioned these two things on writing your explanations of the origins of the law, the passage of the law in June 1963. And one was the general atmosphere of ߞ
WILLIAM C. FRIDAY:
Accumulated animosity.
WILLIAM LINK:
Animosity and polarization that you got over civil rights.
WILLIAM C. FRIDAY:
That's right. Primarily.
WILLIAM LINK:
With all of the marches that were going on the streets.