Fighting censorship: A life-changing decision, vindicated by history

This item jumped out from today’s New Orleans newspaper, a remembrance of a journalist and civic leader whose trajectory was charted by a principled decision made as a college student editor.

As the Times-Picayune describes, Carl Corbin was one of seven Louisiana State University journalism students, including three editors at The Reveille newspaper, who faced discipline for standing up to Gov. Huey Long’s autocratic demand to censor an unflattering letter-to-the-editor.

The article is notable for many reasons, but among them is that — despite having lived a remarkable 96-year life that included serving with distinction in the Army, climbing the journalism ranks to become a vice president of the Newhouse newspaper group, and winning accolades for charity work that included heading the New Orleans branch of the YMCA — the first line in Corbin’s obituary was still: College censorship fighter.

We know, through painful experience, that standing up against censors is scary business. It’s tough enough telling a teacher, a dean, a principal or a vice president that students have the right to publish controversial material that makes powerful people unhappy. Just think about telling that to the governor.

Still, opposing censorship almost invariably is recognized as the right side of history. In the case of Corbin and the “Louisiana Seven,” vindication came in the form of an apology from the LSU board of trustees after Long’s administration had been discredited by cronyism.

Just see how, through the long lens of history, Gov. Long’s tantrum about a letter-to-the-editor — and his willingness to damage the lives of young people who did not accede to his censorship whims — seems so quaint. The idea that a government official could use his authority to squelch criticism of his administration causes us all to shake our heads and wonder, “How could people ever have been so backward?”

Those who are censoring today — at places like Missouri Southern State University, the University of Texas-Tyler, and Benedict College — must know that, one day soon, their behavior will seem as archaic as Packards and fedoras, and those who stand up against them will be remembered as heroes. The question is: Whose side of history do you want to be on? Carl Corbin’s, or Huey Long’s?