Cussing with Impunity

Cover of Herbert Hyde recording

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.

Hyde portrait

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.

5 thoughts on “Cussing with Impunity”

  1. What a great piece! I have already shared this with any of a number of people. Thanks for including more sound on this site!

  2. I miss old Herb, he was quite a character. He lost his seat in the ’94 Republican landslide. He ran again, but never regained his seat. I don’t think he was well suited for the nastier big money battles for even small offices that current politics entail.

  3. It was wonderful to find that someone had digitized this classic case of Southern oratory. Somewhere at home I have one of these records and now i can listen whenever I want without destroying the record!

    I covered the General Assembly at the time as a reporter for UPI, and the lieutentant governor’s race. Herb Hyde was a great speaker and legislator, a truly funny man on the floor of the House and off it, and a gentleman of the first order. Thanks for this reminder of him.

  4. Herb was my uncle. I also have an original copy of this record. We all miss him. He was quite a gifted and honest man.

  5. I got this record at crabtree valley mall in 1976. campaign volunteers were giving them out to anyone who wanted one. I made a small donation and voted for rep. hyde for lt gov.i I have shared it with many people thru the years. I made a tape of the flexi disc, and still have the original disc. in these times of bad government, we need a man of character like herbert hyde. he was spot on about working mules, they’ll make a preacher cuss. a great man and I regret he didn’t become lt gov.

  6. Herb was my brother-in-law. Enjoyed his wit, his brilliant intellect, and his matchless way with words. A true Renaissance man, he could quote effortlessly from the Bible, Shakespeare, current events, and much, much more.

  7. I have always loved Herbert Hyde. He and the stories he told will never be forgotten. Herbert was the true Democrat some only thought they were.

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