You may have heard about an Orange County Superior Court judge’s recent ruling that a 98-year-old state ban on profanity is unconstitutional. The news has traveled far and wide. The story has also caused some to recall another time when the state ban came under scrutiny.
In 1973 two state senators proposed an amendment calling for Swain County’s removal as one of two counties exempted from the ban (the other is Pitt County). The possibility that cursing would be outlawed in Swain County led Buncombe County representative Herbert Hyde, a son of Swain County, to take to the floor of the House chamber in defense of his native county’s exemption. Hyde, who was known for his oratorical skills, quoted the Bible and Shakespeare in his 8-minute speech and discoursed on Cherokee culture. The Cherokees, he said, do not curse and their language does not include swear words. But Hyde’s oration is best remembered–and often titled–for words that he didn’t utter: “Mr. Speaker, there oughta be somewhere a person can cuss without breaking the law.”
Nevertheless, when Hyde ran for Lieutenant Governor in 1976 his campaign distributed a recording of the famous speech using the apocryphal lines as its title. The liner notes for the recording point out that “a specific price tag has not been placed on the recording. However, Herbert Hyde will be most grateful for the contributions you make to his campaign.” The flimsy disc itself is attached to the sleeve on top of a picture of Hyde.
The Buncombe County representative’s bid for lieutenant governor was unsuccessful. But his oration may have played a part in keeping Swain County a safe haven for cussin’.
We’ve got Hyde’s full speech digitized and ready for your ears.