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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 >>

Opposition to the Speaker Ban and efforts to overturn it

Friday describes in detail why he was opposed to the Speaker Ban law. In addition to his general support of academic freedom, Friday believed that the circulation of ideas, particularly those that represented extreme and oppositional points of view, were crucial to the intellectual environment of a university. In addition, he describes his interactions with the Board of Governors, the General Assembly, and Governor Dan Moore during the controversy and towards the overturning of the bill in 1968.

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 don't think I asked the question very well, because what I meant was, was there a background, you think, of differences of opinion between yourself and the Board?
WILLIAM C. FRIDAY:
Yes.
WILLIAM LINK:
That you were aware of?
WILLIAM C. FRIDAY:
Well, I knew where Mr. White would like to have come down. And Mr. Barber, I think he was still on the Board. Mr. Taylor. I knew that I was skating on thin ice. But I had no option. I had to do it. And I wanted to. Because I thought this was another case of eroding the law away a little more. You just keep chipping, and keep chipping, and keep chipping. But when they came out flat, as flat as they categorically know, then I knew it was all over. [unclear] was closed.
WILLIAM LINK:
Do you thinkߞhow do you explain it? Do you think the Board and the Executive Committee was going to [unclear]
WILLIAM C. FRIDAY:
I think they really believed it. I really do. Their positionߞnot the Board, but those who voted on it. But there position was to keep these people off the campus, doesn't infringe on anything. Your still free to do what you want to do in the classrooms. We just don't want this kind of person speaking on the campus. My answer to that was, "That's precisely why you have the rule." You have people that speak out that way, who are contentious. Who are argumentative. Who bother us. Because societies must change. You have to know what the options of change are. The one's who are extremist, you never go with, but you need to know what their thinking, because somewhere between where you are, and where they are, is where your going come down. And how would you understand that, if you don't hear his case? I said, "I don't agree with these people anymore than you do. But that isn't the issue." Not accepting a doctrine, what your trying to say is this is a free country. And most of all, universities are places where freedom should be spoken. It stood for it. You've got to keep these places open. I couldn't win. We've been over that argument so many times, they've just grown weary. And what I really believe in their hearts, is they wish we'd never brought the thing before. But Carlyle Sitterson and I knew that you can't stop a movement like this. It's got to go. So, we just marched right in and we knew what was going to happen. I did. I felt it. And it hurt. [Laughter] Because those people I had known as well as I knew the back of may hand. But they got under a lot of local pressure, Bill, and that was one of the things. You know, they go back home and they hear all of this stuff that, they just said, "We're not going to do anything with the University. We're not going to hurt it." "You don't want that kind of fellow speaking on the campus, you know." Can't you hear itߞthis I'm sure is the kind of monologue that went on thousands of times. Different levels of intensity. But different dimensions of it. But always the same argument. "We just don't need our students hearing that stuff." Today it wouldn't be a racist argument, it would be something else. Somebody coming in on some sex case, or some pornography argument. Or some abortion business. The issues in that sense changed, but never the principle.
WILLIAM LINK:
Could it also have been that although many of these people were great supporters of the University over the years, [unclear] they didn't exactlyߞtheir thinking ߞ
WILLIAM C. FRIDAY:
Well, the people who brought it on in the first place, you're absolutely right, they neverߞwell, let's put it this way. They always felt comfortable with the University until some of these things happen. It was always a where they wanted their children to go to. They knew that it was right. That it was good. Not exactly knowing why specifically. But, you know, Bill Friday's over there. And Tom Pearsall's on the Board. And Watts is on the Board. And Victor's on the Board. Everything's all right. You don't have to worry. Now that element stayed together. It's when the strategy that was worked out by Senator Godwin, and those who supported him. And they got to some members of the Board that didn't operate at the level these others did, and pulled them away. And put them under intense personal pressure. Because keep in mind, that Trustee membership was determined by the same General Assembly that passed the law. And that was speaking with a voice that a lot of them heard. Some of them were up for reelection. I'm sure of that. And that gets to be a problem, you know.
WILLIAM LINK:
What about the governors during this crisis?
WILLIAM C. FRIDAY:
Well, I had no problem with Governor Dan Moore. He was the principle all the way through. He was a judge himself. He understood this. He did everything he could to keep it in balance. To keep itߞhe was very helpful to me. He really was. He stayed out of it, in the sense of not using his office unduly to influence it. He had no sympathy at all for the speaker's. I'm sure of that. And he didn't think that they ought to be speaking on the campus. But he didn't step across the line. And he has neverߞhe never once turned me down on any conversation about this whole quest. About where we should go. He did not vote in that Executive Committee vote, because there was not ties, so he didn't have to vote. He sought more clearly that most people, the damage this was doing to the University. Because he was getting it from everywhere. And being a personality that dealt in the national scene, he was getting it from there too. And it's like today now, when you takeߞI can't go anywhere in the United States today, without the first question coming up, "What's happened to North Carolina?" And that's a media identification. But, Dan Moore, from my point of view, he was an ally. Although we were not of the same mind, as to the academic freedom. His was more of a judicial orientation. Mine was the academia. He never once used any effort to influence me at all. He left me alone. And he was always very respectful, as I was to try and be to him. And that sort of relationship is much to be cherished. Because there have been lots Governor's who try to, you know, to box you in.