Kids hate to hear "My, how you've changed!"
No kid ever hated that more than I hated watching the hard evidence of change in the way my beloved University of North Carolina treats visiting speakers on controversial topics. The video showed former Rep. Tom Tancredo being given the kind of welcome our crowd used to give only to visiting football teams in Kenan Stadium.
I refuse to vent the feelings of a University of North Carolina (UNC) grad (class of '52) watching that scandalous stomping, chanting, marching, banner-unfurling, vulgar, insulting, and humiliating disruption of Tancredo's speech. The best boxers never show their pain.
Tancredo was there to speak in favor of immigration; the legal kind. Early in the proceedings activists of the Dream Act Amnesty movement, a kind of "Who-needs-borders? Y'all come!" physically shut him up, shut him down, and shut him out.
Somebody heaved a brick through a window and security personnel declared the proceedings at an end. Tancredo's appearance was sponsored by the UNC chapter of Youth for Western Civilization and videotaped by the president of ALIPAC (Americans for Legal Immigration), William Gheen.
We saw and heard a Tancredo-supporter shouting, "You mean, all you have to do in America today if you don't like what somebody's saying is throw a brick through a five-dollar pane of glass? And that's it? The evening is over?" And that was it. The evening was over.
Rather than thrill the barbarians with my bourgeois outrage, let me spend a few words recalling the way things were then. My days in Chapel Hill, N.C., were during the Sen. Joe McCarthy era, the Cold War worldwide and a hot war against communism in Korea. Appearances by controversial political figures proliferated across the campus in venues large and small. But nobody, absolutely nobody, was subjected to rudeness or disruption of any kind.
The hottest show in town was a bona-fide card-carrying communist on the faculty named Hans Freistadt. Every fraternity and sorority fought to be next to invite Freistadt to dinner followed by his pro-communist speech and questions from the crowd. Sometimes this hottest attraction in town was varied by having Freistadt debate a Protestant minister named Charlie Jones.
Here we were, saying goodbye to classmates going off to war. Like the managing editor of our daily newspaper, the "Daily Tar Heel," Chuck Hauser, who became a severely wounded war hero in Korea, and then running off to hear what the enemy-sympathizing Freistadt had to say. When Herman Talmadge, segregationist governor of Georgia, appeared in Memorial Hall, a student dressed as a Ku Klux Klansman stood in a window outside the hall waving a cross and a torch. Light laughter. No disruption.
What do you do when you're taught in one class (journalism) to avoid cliches and all of a sudden you feel obliged to commit the most gigantic cliché of college life? I choose to surrender to the latter, which goes, "Isn't the exposure to alternative and even unwelcome views what a university is all about?
The closest thing to a disruption in my entire four years came in 1952 when the University of North Carolina became the first Southern university to admit black students without a court order. Tepid. Timid. But a major first step!!
Four black students were gingerly admitted to the Law School at Carolina in 1952. The university administration feared the combustibility of football, alcohol, hundreds of white fraternity men and their dates, rural white boys from a strict segregationist culture — and four black students sitting there amongst them. The university quietly asked the four black students to turn in their passbooks, which would have allowed them to sit in the student section of the stadium, in exchange for tickets in Section K, the Jim-Crow section set aside for black townspeople way off in one corner of the end zone.
Thirty-two student organizations including the Student Legislature and the Monogram Club — the athletes themselves — rose up and demanded our new black classmates be allowed to sit with us in the student section of home football games. "There shall be no second-class students," was our slogan.
We didn't march. We didn't chant. We didn't smash windows. We didn't disrupt.
We did something better.
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