The American Civil Liberties Union chapter of North Carolina — which was founded in the 1960s to defend the rights of UNC students to have “radical” speakers on campus — is celebrating its 50th year.
Mike Meno, spokesman for the N.C. ACLU, said the ACLU was formed in North Carolina to stand against the speaker ban at UNC, which prevented state-supported campuses from hosting any visiting speakers who had ties to the Communist Party or who were known to advocate against the U.S. Constitution.
The state’s organization began as a small group of individuals who volunteered to come together to protect students’ freedom of speech and has since expanded to more than 20,000 members.
“The ACLU challenged the speaker ban in court on behalf of the students at UNC, which is something that most students should be interested in,” Meno said.
The case was pushed into court by the UNC student body president at the time, Paul Dixon III.
Harry Watson, a UNC history professor who specializes in southern studies, believes that though the “speaker ban” was struck down with the help of the ACLU, the memory still continues to affect the UNC campus today.
“The continued effect is to remind people of the fragility of the University’s status as a center for free speech and development,” he said.
The national ACLU began in the 1920s and spread to many states, though it didn’t reach North Carolina for several decades.
Since the development of the N.C. ACLU and its fight against the speaker ban, the organization has advocated in the media and in court for many other key issues — including gay marriage and women’s rights.