Exile and trial of the Campus Echo
A 1973 federal appeals court reinstated student paper after a two-year hiatus
Published: Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, August 14, 2012 16:08
The September 1971 memo from then-Chancellor Albert N. Whiting was clear enough: “I am here announcing that all funds for the publication of the Campus Echo have been temporarily suspended …”
The chancellor’s memo threatened to permanently suspend University sponsorship of the Campus Echo unless a consensus could be reached with the Campus Echo editor regarding “standard journalistic criteria.”
Another University-sponsored edition of the Campus Echo would not appear until the fall of 1973. During the intervening two years, the matter was tried first in district courts and then in federal appeals courts.
When the dust finally settled, the Campus Echo’s editor-in-chief, Johnnie Edward “Jae” Joyner, and SGA president Harvey White were the victors in one of the nation’s landmark cases in student press law.
The case, officially titled Joyner v. Whiting, ruled that the University had violated the First Amendment by cutting funding for the Campus Echo.
In a 3-1 ruling, the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond overturned the lower court’s ruling in favor of Whiting with the following:
“We reverse [the lower court’s decision] because the president’s irrevocable withdrawal of financial support from the Echo and the court’s decree reinforcing this action abridge the freedom of the press in violation of the First Amendment.”
Joyner, recalling the verdict, said his first reaction was relief. “I just sat down in the stairwell and cried,” he said.
Since the verdict, Joyner v. Whiting has been repeatedly cited, according to Mike Hiestand, an attorney and legal consultant for the Student Press Law Center, which is dedicated to protecting the free speech of students.
“Any sort of case involving college press laws definitely has Joyner v. Whiting as support for the defense of college student's freedom of speech," said Hiestand.
The trouble began with the September 16, 1971 issue of the Campus Echo. The front-page banner headline read: IS NCCU STILL A BLACK SCHOOL [sic]. The headline to the top story read: LOOK AND YOU SHALL SEE.
No byline is given to the writer of the article –— which reads more like an editorial than a news story — but court documents indicate that the story was written by then-editor-in-chief Jae Joyner.
In the article, Joyner expresses his concern that too many white students are attending NCCU.
“There is a rapidly growing white population on our campus,” he writes. “Black students on this campus have never made it clear to those people that we are indeed separate from them … and wish to remain so ... and until we assume the role of a strong, proud people we will continue to be co-opted."
White students, he writes, are getting “special privileges” and “don’t have to stand in long registration lines.” And now, he writes, whites are “teaching us.
“Our institutions are being taken away from us,” writes Joyner, who supports his case with a quote from civil rights activist H. Rap Brown: “‘I do what I must out of the love for my people. My will is to fight. Resistance is not enough. Aggression is the order of the day.’”
Page two of the edition includes this announcement:“ATTENTION: Beginning next issue The Campus Echo will not run white advertising.”
The edition’s Afro-centricism is highlighted by the Campus Echo nameplate, on which the words “Campus” and “Echo” are separated with an image of Africa and the word “KoKayi.”
The article ends with: “Now will you tell me, whose institution is NCCU? Theirs? Or Ours?”
Elsewhere, Joyner had announced that only black students would be allowed to work at the Campus Echo.
Chancellor Albert Whiting’s response was swift. In a memo announcing that University funding would be cut from the paper, he wrote that the September 16 issue of the Campus Echo didn’t meet “standard journalistic criteria” and that it didn’t “represent fairly the full spectrum of views on this campus.” He said that Joyner’s article was full of “racial divisiveness and antagonism.”
Whiting, who had been advised by North Carolina’s attorney general that the University could lose federal funding, stated that Joyner was promoting segregation and that he violated equal protection guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
“The point that I wish to make,” wrote Whiting in the memorandum, “is that as a State-Supported Institution especially, but also in terms of what is morally and legally right, this institution is not a ‘Black University’ and does not intend to become one.”
In a recent interview, Whiting said, “The schools were already integrated when Joyner became the editor. Joyner was violating the law by not allowing white students to write for the Echo.”
Immediately after Whiting cut funding, students begin picketing in front of his home.
Whiting’s decision to cut funding was backed by the UNC Board of Governors.
The case became a showdown between free speech, protected by the First Amendment, and equal rights – in this case for whites – protected by the Fourteenth Amendment and the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Twice in U.S. history, the Supreme Court has declared it unconstitutional to censor publication: in 1931 (Near v. Minnesota) and in 1971 (New York Times Co v. United States).
In Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, a case where high school students were forbidden to wear black armbands with peace symbols, the courts ruled that the First Amendment applied to public schools as long as the speech did not disrupt of school operations.