On Monday afternoon, UNC students received dozens of texts from friends and family, and an e-mail from Chancellor Carol L. Folt -- one of the last she will send to the whole university community. Chancellor Folt announced that she had ordered the removal of Silent Sam's pedestal and Sam's permanent movement to some off-campus location. She also announced that she would be stepping down as chancellor after graduation in May. On Tuesday, the Board determined that she would, in fact, be stepping down on January 31, giving her just over two weeks to finish out her tenure here at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Silent Sam has been the source of controversy since its placement at the gates of the nation's oldest public university in 1913, but especially since a history graduate student uncovered and wrote about the controversial implications of the statue in 2015. Governor Roy Cooper said in 2017 that the statue represented a threat to public safety, and the Charlottesville white supremacist rally that same year only served to heighten tensions, increasing calls for the statue's removal.
After 106 years at the front of the university campus, Sam was removed in the middle of the night on Monday. To me, this is pretty redolent of the classic quote, "not a bang, but a whimper." Silent Sam has been a huge part of my university career, almost to the same extent that winning national championships and studying in Davis Library have been huge parts of my university career. FDOC Fall 2017 and 2018 were both fraught with tension and uncertainty with regard to what would come next.
Silent Sam has become an icon on this campus in a way that no other statue really is, partially because it is a symbol of the university's confusing priority of the safety of funding over the safety of students. We have seen white supremacist rallies and "funerals" for the statue, we have seen potentially dangerous protests, and we have seen a lot of situations in which students did not have a voice. We have seen areas of campus closed to the students who call it home. After all of this, we saw Sam come down quietly, with only a small audience, in the middle of the night on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.
Most of all though, we have seen something historic.
While we do not choose our history, we do choose which parts of history come to represent our campus.
UNC has been represented in the national news time and again as the home of Silent Sam. Silent Sam may be gone, but that does not mean that the empty spot on this campus is, and it does not mean that anyone will soon forget the prevalence of Silent Sam in campus culture. The empty spot on campus is, in many ways, a better memorial to the student lives lost during the Civil War, which was Silent Sam's spoken intent. Silent Sam has been put into context over and over again since its erection in 1913, and will forever be memorialized by all of the ways it has been put into context in the last decade.