Free Speech, Personified

Peter Salovey in the New York Times:

27salovey-sub-blog427In recent months, visitors with controversial views have found themselves disinvited from or unable to speak on American college campuses. These struggles are often portrayed as new and radical assaults on freedom of speech. But they are not new. For decades, conservatives and liberals have argued over which speakers should be allowed to address university audiences.

In 1963, the Yale Political Union, one of the oldest collegiate debate societies in the United States, invited the defiant segregationist governor of Alabama, George Wallace, to Yale. Just a few weeks before his scheduled visit, Klansmen bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., killing four African-American schoolgirls and wounding 22 others.

Wallace — the personification of Southern hostility to integration — had famously stood on the portico of the Alabama State Capitol and declared in his inaugural speech, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” Many blamed Wallace for inciting the violence.

The provost and acting president of Yale, Kingman Brewster Jr., advised the students to withdraw their invitation. Mayor Richard C. Lee said Wallace was “officially unwelcome” in New Haven.

Not everyone agreed. Pauli Murray, a lawyer and civil rights activist pursuing her doctorate of jurisprudence at the law school, wrote to Brewster, urging him to send a clear message that Wallace should be allowed to express his views at Yale.

“This controversy affects me in a dual sense, for I am both a lawyer committed to civil rights including civil liberties and a Negro who has suffered from the evils of racial segregation,” she wrote.

More here.