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

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North Carolina's 1963 speaker ban law declared the state's public college and university campuses off-limits to "known members of the Communist Party" or to anyone who cited the Fifth Amendment in refusing to answer questions posed by any state or federal body. Oddly enough, the law was passed in a state where there had been no known communist activity since the 1950s. Jus North Carolina's 1963 speaker ban law declared the state's public college and university campuses off-limits to "known members of the Communist Party" or to anyone who cited the Fifth Amendment in refusing to answer questions posed by any state or federal body. Oddly enough, the law was passed in a state where there had been no known communist activity since the 1950s. Just which "communists" was it attempting to curb? In Communists on Campus, William J. Billingsley bares the truth behind the false image of the speaker ban's ostensible concern. Appearing at a critical moment in North Carolina and U.S. history, the law marked a last-ditch effort by conservative rural politicians to increase conservative power and quell the demands of the civil rights movement, preventing the feared urban political authority that would accompany desegregation and African American political participation. Questioning the law's discord with North Carolina's progressive reputation, Billingsley also criticizes the school officials who publicly appeared to oppose the speaker ban law but, in reality, questioned both students' rights to political opinions and civil rights legislation. Exposing the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as the main target of the ban, he addresses the law's intent to intimidate state schools into submission to reactionary legislative demands at the expense of the students' political freedom.Contrary to its aims, the speaker ban law spawned a small but powerfully organized student resistance led by the Students for a Democratic Society at the University of North Carolina. The SDS, quickly joined by more traditional student groups, mobilized student "radicals" in a memorable effort to halt this breach of their constitutional rights. Highlighting the crisis point of the civil rights movement in North Carolina, Communists on Campus exposes the activities and machinations of prominent political and educational figures Allard Lowenstein, Terry Sanford, William Friday, Herbert Aptheker, and Jesse Helms in an account that epitomizes the social and political upheaval of sixties America.


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North Carolina's 1963 speaker ban law declared the state's public college and university campuses off-limits to "known members of the Communist Party" or to anyone who cited the Fifth Amendment in refusing to answer questions posed by any state or federal body. Oddly enough, the law was passed in a state where there had been no known communist activity since the 1950s. Jus North Carolina's 1963 speaker ban law declared the state's public college and university campuses off-limits to "known members of the Communist Party" or to anyone who cited the Fifth Amendment in refusing to answer questions posed by any state or federal body. Oddly enough, the law was passed in a state where there had been no known communist activity since the 1950s. Just which "communists" was it attempting to curb? In Communists on Campus, William J. Billingsley bares the truth behind the false image of the speaker ban's ostensible concern. Appearing at a critical moment in North Carolina and U.S. history, the law marked a last-ditch effort by conservative rural politicians to increase conservative power and quell the demands of the civil rights movement, preventing the feared urban political authority that would accompany desegregation and African American political participation. Questioning the law's discord with North Carolina's progressive reputation, Billingsley also criticizes the school officials who publicly appeared to oppose the speaker ban law but, in reality, questioned both students' rights to political opinions and civil rights legislation. Exposing the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as the main target of the ban, he addresses the law's intent to intimidate state schools into submission to reactionary legislative demands at the expense of the students' political freedom.Contrary to its aims, the speaker ban law spawned a small but powerfully organized student resistance led by the Students for a Democratic Society at the University of North Carolina. The SDS, quickly joined by more traditional student groups, mobilized student "radicals" in a memorable effort to halt this breach of their constitutional rights. Highlighting the crisis point of the civil rights movement in North Carolina, Communists on Campus exposes the activities and machinations of prominent political and educational figures Allard Lowenstein, Terry Sanford, William Friday, Herbert Aptheker, and Jesse Helms in an account that epitomizes the social and political upheaval of sixties America.

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

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    I think everybody should read Communists on Campus. OK not everybody, but if you are interested in the public sector in North Carolina, legislative politics in the South, the history of the Civil Rights movement, or are concerned about reactionary responses to movements for racial or social justice, I would recommend reading this book. This is not the easiest book to recommend as it deals with a pretty narrow, somewhat obscure topic in North Carolina history: the UNC campus speaker ban of the 19 I think everybody should read Communists on Campus. OK not everybody, but if you are interested in the public sector in North Carolina, legislative politics in the South, the history of the Civil Rights movement, or are concerned about reactionary responses to movements for racial or social justice, I would recommend reading this book. This is not the easiest book to recommend as it deals with a pretty narrow, somewhat obscure topic in North Carolina history: the UNC campus speaker ban of the 1960s. Part of what is fun about Communists on Campus though, is that the book really isn’t about communists and it is only barely about any particular campus. Instead it investigates some fascinating dynamics of North Carolina state politics in the 1960’s, particularly the tension between the historically powerful political class from the eastern part of the state and the ascendant “new Southern” metropolitan business community from cities like Charlotte and the response of both of these groups to civil rights protest led by young people of color. The book sheds some light, through example, on the way that “flag ship” North Carolina institutions or initiatives with reputations for being progressive become an important target for conservative forces. The book also demonstrates how anti-communism became a useful and flexible “cause,” for those wanting to defend an embattled status quo in North Carolina, long after McCarthyism had been discredited and when a pro-Jim Crow stance was no longer viable. Although the focus of the book is very narrow I found that it helped me understand current dynamics in the state much better. Realizing that a couple generations ago the UNC system and policies associated with the Terry Stanford administration were anathema to powerful conservatives gives me a perspective on the way the current conservative State Assembly is practically defunding the UNC system and seems to have an irrational vendetta against programs like Smart Start (a program to support early childhood education that is associated with the Hunt administration and which like UNC Chapel Hill has a national reputation.) The episode of the speaker ban includes fascinating appearances by people whose names we recognize from NC politics. In some ways Jessie Helms solidified his prominence during the speaker ban fight. Western NC native Daniel K Moore was governor at the time. J. Edgar Hoover even makes a cameo. David Britt, Representing Robison County in the State Legislature, is a major actor, and his surname rings familiar if you followed politics in Robison County during the 1980’s where there was an social, racial, and economic justice struggle that was sometimes referred to as the Selma of the 1980’s. If you spend anytime on campuses of the North Carolina University system you are likely to encounter the name Aycock on some building or another; William Aycock was the Chancellor at UNC at the time of the speaker ban. While the book was not about the civil rights movement, per say I found the chapter three informative and I learned a little more about some of the grassroots civil rights actions and formations in the “Triangle” and Triad areas. Just because of my own experience as a college student I care about campus organizing and I found the detailing of UNC campus activist groups before and after passage of the speaker ban, in chapter two really interesting. So while the presentation is pretty dry and academic, I found the content fascinating and exciting, at least in a history nerd kind of way. Take chapter seven with the composition and dealings of a special committee convened by Governor Moore to attempt to address the conservative legislators’ speaker ban while avoiding the embarrassment and economic impact that a loss of accreditation, threatened by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, in reaction to the ban, would cause. This should be and in some ways is the stale minutia of government and bureaucracy. But it is also full of tantalizing tid-bits that give us a window into what was going on at the time. The committee includes people from textile families – the owners of Hanes and Burlington- in North Carolina. There is only one woman on the committee which gives the author and opportunity to write briefly about the status of women and women’s issues in the state legislature. As readers we get to see how region is important in State politics at this time – the committee has several members from Governor Moore’s home in Jackson County. And we read about how the committee, which Jessie Helms of WRAL claims is stacked with people opposed to the speaker ban, tries to navigate the need for the state to be sufficiently “anti -communist” while not damaging important North Carolina institutions. I couldn’t help but think about the current state of affairs in NC, where a Republican Governor from a metro-area is trying to balance the demands of a right wing legislature with the practicalities of being a business friendly “New Southern” state. OK, admittedly most people won’t find these details a gripping read but I found the book to be very interesting and it helped me make some sense of the craziness of NC State politics. I think it is worth a read, especially given the rightward shift in the state legislature since 2010. If anti-communism was the way to organize conservative forces in the mid-1960’s in NC and the speaker ban was the poster child for participants in and critics of this right-wing movement, which of the many attacks coming from the right are its equivalent today?

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ken McDouall

  3. 5 out of 5

    Patrick

  4. 5 out of 5

    Williams Parker

  5. 4 out of 5

    Matt Compton

  6. 4 out of 5

    Stella

  7. 5 out of 5

    James

  8. 5 out of 5

    Brett

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sean

  10. 5 out of 5

    Taylor N

  11. 4 out of 5

    G

  12. 5 out of 5

    PKN1 GoodReads

  13. 5 out of 5

    Zach Beauchemin

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