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Boomer Bytes #39: Are We Radical or Radical Enough?

Editor’s Note: Below is another column in Steve Canipe’s series called Boomer Bytes. The column, as the title suggests, will focus on a variety of topics that may be of interest to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. But Canipe also hopes to start a conversation with younger generations, too. Check out an introduction and Canipe’s (first self-titled) column here.

Are We Radical or Radical Enough?

By Steve Canipe

Oct. 10, 2014. During a recent cleaning of some old papers, I ran across a clipping that I had saved printed in the Charlotte Observer back on 14 November 1967! I’m not sure why I saved it really or why I kept it. But as I started reading the article on the editorial page (C. A. McKnight was editor then), I was struck by the headline “Appalachian Gets ‘Attention’ But For Unfortunate Reason.” That headline spurred my interest to know what it was that we got attention for and why it was unfortunate.

In November of 1967, I had just begun my senior year at App State. I was looking forward to doing my student teaching in the winter quarter (we had quarters back then) in Charlotte at East Mecklenburg High School. There had been much talk on campus about Viet Nam and also about the racial tensions stemming from the recent Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts guaranteeing all people equal rights.

The event that prompted the editorial which took students here to task was a visit to campus by the Southern Student Organizing Committee (SSOC), although the Observer editorial incorrectly referred to them as the Southern Student Organization Committee. Guess even editors make mistakes!! The first paragraph said “Appalachian State students who used force of numbers to silence members of the Southern Student Organization [sic] Committee belied the ‘university’ now attached to their school’s name.” It further said that we preferred to be a “…mountain citadel of closed-mindedness.”


During the time this happened I barely remember the incident; it just did not make a big impression on me as I was focused on living life after college and worrying about the upcoming student teaching in the “big city” and possibly getting drafted for Viet Nam. The social issues that the SSOC was bringing up did not resonate with me too much.

The main thrust of the visit was the war protests, and I am a little surprised in hindsight that the group was received so poorly. As I have mentioned in an earlier column (Bytes #16 –Our War), there was lots of discussions about the war in the men’s dorms and consideration of moving to Canada and other ways to avoid being drafted.

So here was a group that was espousing what many of us had been talking about. I suspect that the group, comprised mostly of very liberal students not only talking about the war but also associated with workers’ rights and growing feminism, was just too liberal for a basically conservative audience. During the same period a SSOC group was at the University of Tennessee and of the 26,000 there about 10 joined the effort. We were hardly alone in rejecting the ideas being presented but we may have been a bit more vocal..

Considering and then accepting or rejecting ideas is sort of what the University (any university) should be about. This was the underlying theme of the Observer editorial. Appalachian students of the day would not even listen. The SSOC group members were shouted down and literally pushed out. It could have gotten out of hand but Dean O. K. Webb tried to calm the fray pointing out that with North Carolina’s 1963 Speakers Ban Law, it was necessary to have all speakers approved in advance. The group had not complied with all the technicalities of the law. This law passed by the legislature was designed to prevent Communists and other radicals from speaking on state campuses. The law created political furor and was found by a federal court in 1968 to violate the 1st Amendment protections. Governor Dan Moore decided against appealing to the US Supreme Court and the law died.

The Observer concluded the editorial saying that we had missed a golden opportunity to really put Appalachian on the map in a way similar to what happened in Neshoba County, Mississippi. If you don’t remember this incident, it is where three civil rights workers were murdered. The three were James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner. It was their murders by the local KKK, in part, that prompted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 being enacted.

Fast forward almost 47 years, and look at another social upheaval – Gay Marriage. In the fell swoop of a vote not to do something, the US Supreme Court has given tacit approval to same-sex marriage for a large percentage of the American people. The Court did this by refusing to hear any appeals to the lower courts rulings. Reporting by the Washington Post indicated that more than half the country’s population lives in states that definitely already do or, based on the lower court rulings, must approve the marriage equality idea. The Post also pointed out that you had to look at the specific date because the map would probably flicker again. Indeed it has, because on 8 October two additional states were added to the mix (Idaho and Nevada although now Justice Kennedy has implemented a stay) and with the Circuit Courts’ ruling applying to all states in the respective Circuit, it seems inevitable that other states like Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming will be added shortly.

Is this radical? I would say it is probably more radical than booing and shoving the SSOC off the campus at Appalachian in the late 1960s. There seems to be a misunderstanding over what this means, at least as I read the rulings. What the ruling does not do is force anyone to marry a person of the same sex; it does not force a minister to perform such a ceremony. What it does do is say that for those who want to marry, it is OK and that states must accept a legal marriage in one state in all the states covered by the various Circuit Courts. It provides for people who love each other to make decisions and be involved in all aspects of their lives. This has always been allowed for heterosexual couples. Having the same rights for any two people seemed to be a logical step by the states that have approved it and by the Circuit Courts that denied challenges against same-sex marriages.

Right or wrong – these two diametrically opposite words create anger and hard feelings. I’m not sure whether I feel same-sex marriage is right or wrong. But what I do feel is wrong is to assume that just because someone elects to marry a same sex partner that it will harm me. I won’t elect to do a same sex marriage (my wife of nearly 43 years would object to that). I don’t feel this ruling presents any threat to my choice of marrying a woman. Perhaps I am a libertarian in this instance – let’s keep the government out of my personal business. There is little that is more personal than choosing whom to marry!!

Maybe a statement by a member of the SSOC after being kicked off campus is relevant here with same sex marriage and perhaps other things – he said students in other places “…did not believe in what we said but they let us say it.” Maybe this is the way to approach controversial issues we don’t like – we don’t have to agree but we probably do need to allow others the freedom to express themselves.

What do you think about the 1967 incident with the SSOC on campus here at Appalachian or about the recent Supreme Court refusal to hear same-sex marriage cases. Let me hear from you about your thoughts on either or both of these issues Send your thoughts, either via email at boomerbytes@yahoo.com or post them at the end of the column. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.