Communists on Campus: Race, Politics, and the Public University in Sixties North Carolina

Article excerpt

Communists on Campus: Race, Politics, and the Public University in Sixties North Carolina. By William J. Billingsley. (Athens, Ga., and London: University of Georgia Press, c. 1999. Pp. xviii, 308. $29.95, ISBN 0-82032109-5.)

In the waning moments of the 1963 legislative session, conservative North Carolina politicians passed an "Act to Regulate Visiting Speakers" through an emptying General Assembly. The Speaker Ban Law, as the statute was known, prohibited from speaking at public universities communists, persons advocating the overthrow of the government, and those who invoked the Fifth Amendment when they were questioned about communist activity. Accordingly, most scholars have linked this chilling law with Cold War paranoia. William Billingsley's Communists on Campus argues convincingly that the law had more to do with political flare-ups in the state than it did with the lawmakers' fears of communist infiltration. Billingsley must be credited for his use of solid primary sources, including personal papers and university and state records.

The legislators who secured passage of the Speaker Ban Law were white leaders from the rural, eastern part of the state who were defending their traditional hold on political power. These politicians resented the rise in influence of more liberal, urban areas in the Piedmont. They were also grasping for "order" against civil rights agitation. Finally, the law sought to rein in those at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) whose tolerance for freedom of speech conservatives found unbearable. Billingsley follows the five-year struggle between the state's conservatives (including Jesse Helms), UNC president William Friday, and student activists at Chapel Hill who ultimately challenged the law in court. …