“In his day, they wore coats and ties to political rallies. It’s amazing the difference between his time at Carolina and mine four years later,” Dickson said. “My time was very different. We were all growing our hair just as long and fast as we could and marching down the street and protesting at the ROTC buildings – it wasn’t Silent Sam, it was the Vietnam war.”
Dickson said he remembers Paul speaking about the coordination efforts between students and UNC administrators to fight the ban. Hugh Stevens, former co-editor of The Daily Tar Heel, graduated before the law was overturned but was active in the opposition leading up to the court case.
“Unlike some of the other issues that had arisen over the years, this was an issue in which the student leadership and university leadership were completely aligned,” he said.
At the time of the Speaker Ban, UNC students were also participating in civil rights and antiwar protests, sit-ins and boycotts on Franklin Street.
“It was great. It was exciting. There were things to be debated and talked about, thought about all the time,” Stevens said. “It was a very turbulent time, which is a great time to be at the University.”
William Sturkey, UNC history professor, said the opposition to the Speaker Ban was a unique case of student activism at UNC.
“I think that’s one of the interesting things between now and what students were doing then, is we have this state law imposed without the input of people in Chapel Hill on Chapel Hill, and you know student activists are going to try to get around that state law,” he said.
Jock Lauterer, a UNC journalism professor and former student at UNC, was a photojournalist for The Daily Tar Heel at the time of the Speaker Ban. He said he attended rallies to challenge the ban, as well as marches for civil rights and vigils for Vietnam.
“I think for many students, coming from other places, perhaps from conservative families even, to come here and realize what the '60s meant and what the era of social change meant was very liberating,” Lauterer said. “It was a great time to be a journalist and a great time to be a student. I think we all really felt we could make a difference just with our bodies, just being out there, not just as observers but as participants.”
Lauterer said while arrests were made at some protests, former Chapel Hill Police Chief William Blake was committed to non-violent police coverage that prevented anyone from being seriously hurt. He said there was never any pushback from University administration when it came to student activism.
“The political climate is so incredibly polarizing and divisive across the country now, and it has to do with our administration, and I don’t mean South (Building). I think we’re just so polarized that that’s affected campus as well,” Lauterer said. “I think in the '60s the South Building was more supportive of student activism and was quietly working behind the scenes to affect that social change.”
Nicholas Graham, University archivist, said the first known public protest of Silent Sam was in 1968 following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., which was likely done by Black students in response to racism on campus.
“Whenever there was a big protest on campus targeting racism and white supremacy, the statue was often a rallying point,” he said.
Lauterer, Stevens and Dickson said they didn’t remember Silent Sam as a source of controversy during their time at UNC, but the makeup of the University at the time was much different. Dickson said current Silent Sam protests are important because they show students are still standing up for what they believe in, in spite of the consequences.
“In my era of civil rights, people got arrested and that was a badge of honor in a lot of ways,” Dickson said. “Whoever gets arrested with this Silent Sam thing needs to accept that they broke a law, and so they’re going to suffer the consequences, but it’s for the right purpose.”