Sam was silent, but Communist speaker wasn’t

On this day in 1966: University of North Carolina police prevent Herbert Aptheker, historian and member of the American Communist Party, from speaking on the Chapel Hill campus.

Aptheker first attempted to address students from the ledge of a campus landmark, the Confederate statue known as Silent Sam. Thwarted, he steps a few feet away, crosses a low stone wall onto town property and faces 2,000 students seated on the campus lawn. His speech proves less than incendiary; its main result is to focus national attention on the state’s 1963 Speaker Ban Law.

Legislators adopted the ban during a period of social unrest and at the height of the Cold War. Secretary of State Thad Eure drafted the law “to regulate visiting speakers at state-supported colleges and universities.” On the blacklist: any “known member of the Communist Party,” anyone who advocated the overthrow of the state or federal constitutions and anyone who had pleaded the Fifth Amendment about “subversive connections.”

In 1968 a federal court will declare the Speaker Ban Law unconstitutional.