The combination of scandalous content and official censorship makes the story of the 1939 Carolina Buccaneer “Sex Issue” one of the most intriguing in UNC history.
A new collection in the University Archives helps to shed more light on the story of the “Sex Issue” and its hasty suppression by campus leaders. We are pleased to make available for research a small collection from Bill Stauber, who was the editor of the Buccaneer at the time the contentious issue was published. The papers include photos, clippings, letters, and, perhaps most interesting, an original copy of the uncensored cover of the November 1939 issue. The collection was donated by Stauber’s son.
The Carolina Buccaneer was a student humor magazine published on campus from 1924 through 1940. The magazine had colorful covers and a professional layout. It had the appearance of a national glossy magazine, but the content was strictly local. Most of the articles referred to campus personalities and incidents long forgotten, making it often difficult for modern readers to find the humor in some of the pieces. (Anyone interested in exploring for themselves can find a full run of the Buccaneer in the North Carolina Collection in Wilson Library.)
The Buccaneer liked to push the limits with its cartoons depicting scantily-clad women and off-color poems and stories. In the fall of 1939, the magazine’s editors finally crossed the line, leading student government to condemn the issue and campus administrators to aid in its destruction.
The content of the November 1939 issue is fairly tame by contemporary standards, though readers today are much more likely to find offense at the treatment of women in the text (which largely survived in the revised edition that was published) rather than the revealing illustrations (which were removed).
The original “Sex Issue” was set for release in mid-November 1939, but campus leaders got hold of it first. Interestingly, it was not university administrators who ordered the suppression of the issue. Jim Davis, student body president, said “such an issue would seriously and permanently damage the reputation and lessen the prestige of the University in general.” The Student Council ordered the destruction of the issues and asked the editor to revise the magazine before re-submitting for publication. (This raises an interesting question about the approval process for student publications. I haven’t looked to try to determine whether all student publications had to be submitted for review before distribution or if this issue of the Buccaneer was a special case.)
A few days later, the Daily Tar Heel reported that the 4,000 issues of the offending issue were “unceremoniously dumped into the fiery depths of Chapel Hill’s incinerator.”
A revised edition of the November 1939 Buccaneer was published later in the month, with a nearly all-white cover calling attention to the censorship of the student council. Here, for the first time that we are aware, are all three covers of the Buccaneer “Sex Issue”: the original illustration, the cover that appeared on the destroyed issues, and the revised cover.