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

William J. Billingsley. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1999, 308 pp., $29.95

IN 1963 THE NORTH CAROLINA General Assembly wound up its legislative term by adopting a statute requiring all state tax-supported colleges and universities to bar certain persons from appearing on their campuses "for speaking purposes." Persons henceforth to be barred included any "known member of the Communist Party"; anyone "known to advocate the overthrow of the Constitution of the United States or the State of North Carolina"; and anyone who, at any time, had "pleaded the Fifth Amendment" in declining to answer "any question with respect to Communist or subversive activities," when asked by a "duly constituted legislative committee . . . or executive or administrative board of the United States or anv state."

Viewed from the distance of nearly four decades, a new book organized around the 1963 North Carolina "speaker ban" law might be expected at best merely to find a small niche within a much larger library of works providing the dismal narrative of anticommunist excesses of its era. The late forties, nearly all of the fifties, and too much of the sixties were that era. It was the era of the Smith Act, the Subversive Activities Control Act, multiple prosecutions and the purging of professors from universities and public school systems, the House UnAmerican Activities Committee hearings, the Army-McCarthy hearings, the Tenney Committee in California, and the Feinberg Law in New York. It was also a time when the Supreme Court decided Dennis, Scales, Yates, Barenblatt, Wilkinson, Braden, Keyishian, Kent v. Dunes, and Aptheker v. United States, case names connecting a best-forgotten past, cases now obscure, like headstones flecked with lichen, protruding in a winter wind of an old cemetery, the burial ground of malign laws and of rather sorry times.

So much is in fact quite true of William Billingsley's new book. It is organized around that 1963 act (and incidentally does provide by far the best balanced and most comprehensive account of its enactment and aftermath in the politics of the state). And it does warrant shelf space within the larger li- brary of works that overall provide the (generally) dismal historical narrative of anticommunist (really, anti-free-speech) excesses of the era. …