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Free Expression at UNC is Subject of Wilson Library Exhibition

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NEW: Exhibit extended through summer, 2013.

A new exhibition in the North Carolina Collection Gallery of Wilson Library explores the long history of free speech controversies at UNC.

A Right to Speak and to Hear: Academic Freedom and Free Expression at UNC will use original letters, documents and photographs to examine some of the University’s most contentious moments from the nineteenth century to the present.

It marks the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the Speaker Ban. The controversial 1963 law forbade known members of the Communist party or those who advocated the overthrow of the federal or state government from speaking on campus. The Ban was overturned in 1968.

Visitors to the exhibit will see original materials from the Library’s North Carolina Collection, Southern Historical Collection, and University Archives and Records Management Services. Highlights include:

  • A page from the early 19th century “Laws of the University of North Carolina” barring students from delivering “indecent, profane, or immoral” speeches.
  • The November 1939 “Sex Issue” of the Buccaneer. The student council ordered this issue of the student humor magazine burned. The Buccaneer had frequent run-ins with campus authorities and was banned from campus at one point.
  • Video of UNC police chief Arthur Beaumont ordering Herbert Aptheker, a member of the Communist Party, off the campus in March 1966 during the Speaker Ban.
  • A letter from David Duke, Grand Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, to the Daily Tar Heel. Students shouted down Duke when he attempted to speak on campus in January 1975. He criticized the protesting students for “suppressing” his right to speak and for limiting their classmates’ right to hear.
  • Postcards sent to Chancellor James Moeser as part of the Family Policy Council’s organized protest of the University’s summer reading selection for 2002, Approaching the Qu’ran: The Early Revelations by Michael Sells.

On April 11, former UNC student body president Robert Spearman (’65) will deliver the annual Gladys Hall Coates University History Lecture in conjunction with the exhibition.

Spearman—now an attorney in Raleigh—will recall student efforts to repeal the Speaker Ban, including his own testimony before a state commission tasked with revising the law.

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