Silent Sam is a Confederate monument on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's campus, which was recently torn down by protesters. For more information on the monument's recent history, check out this story from WRAL.
For years, since Sam's very erection in 1913, protesters have flocked to the monument. The statue was put up as a black woman was whipped for the entertainment of onlookers. In Julian Carr's dedication speech, he repeatedly praised the ways in which the Confederacy connected itself with white supremacy, and he suggested that Confederate soldiers were noble, owing this nobility to their "pure strain of white blood". More horrifying still is that he bragged at punishing a black woman he believed may have disparaged a white woman by horse-whipping her until her skirt hung in shreds.
Unlike the many Confederate statues that were erected to truly honor and remember those Confederate soldiers who lost their lives in the US Civil War, Silent Sam was clearly intended from its very conception to honor and remember the cause of white supremacy. Clearly, this is not the sort of message the nation's oldest public university should be encouraging, displaying, or celebrating. This is a message of hate and discrimination that has absolutely no place on our campus.
Following Charlottesville in 2017, tensions surrounding the monument were heightened. The 2017-2018 school year was marred with a bomb in McCorkle Place, a car bomb threat in Carrboro, protests surrounding Silent Sam, lies from campus police, and several appearances of the KKK on campus. Despite calls from NC Governor Roy Cooper for the monument's removal as a matter of student protection, the UNC Board of Governors continued insistence that the monument should be maintained to "remember our history". I would argue that there's a point at which remembering our history is best done in a museum and not with sometimes violent protests on campus.
On August 20, 2018, protesters converged on the monument in a highly organized manner during the university's annual Sunset Serenade event and by 9 pm had pulled Silent Sam down using ropes, putting an end to Sam's 105-year reign at the front of campus. The protest verged on violent and was certainly dangerous to all those on campus, including the protesters.
On Saturday, alt-right groups converged on campus, claiming to have lost "one of their own" in the removal of Sam. Threats of violence lead the university to encourage students to stay off campus. These groups intend to return Thursday for a "funeral" for the monument, and the university has again warned students to avoid North Campus during that time, for fear of violence toward protesters or even passersby.
And yet. The Board of Governors has publicly stated that the monument will be reinstated in its former spot within 90 days.
Setting aside any personal concerns related to the monument and what it symbolizes, what it says about our university, I do not understand how replacing Silent Sam on campus will protect students, professors, dog walkers, alumni, couples getting engaged, churchgoers, football fans, fraternity brothers, sorority sisters, 5k runners, tour groups, admissions ambassadors, stargazers, or any of the countless others who pass through McCorkle Place on a daily basis.
There are a number of options that will allow the monument to continue to serve as a memorial, as the Board of Governors claims to desire, and also allow the university to foster a message of inclusivity for all students. The monument could be placed in a museum, even the Ackland Art Museum, with a plaque explaining the history and origin of the statue. The monument could be re-erected with a statue in remembrance of all those who have lost their lives on this campus as a result of racial discrimination, and a plaque explaining the significance of each monument in the story of the university. The monument could be placed in some sort of Civil War museum. I'm sure people much smarter than I have come up with a variety of options too.
Here's the thing: it is no longer an option for the Board of Governors to remain silent on the issue of Silent Sam. The deadline for that really passed about 40 years ago, but with the statue down and the pedestal standing as an ugly blight on McCorkle Place, something must be done. It is no longer a matter of "remembering history" or of "protecting the student body" to keep the statue on campus or to reinstate it here with no additional contextualization. Protests from alt-right as well as student groups have made the atmosphere surrounding the statue unsafe to all those on the campus of the University of North Carolina. It is not safe to have Silent Sam here. Something has to change.
I implore the Board of Governors of this university to consider the impact of their decision, and to recognize the role that they play in any violence ensuing from constant prioritization of personal concerns over the safety of students and professors at this university.