Toppled but Not Gone: U.N.C. Grapples Anew With the Fate of Silent Sam

A judge this week scrapped a deal to give the Confederate statue, which was torn down by protesters in August 2018, to the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Comments: 77

  1. The issue will be settled when the GOP, which enjoys a majority in the state legislature only because of extreme gerrymandering (two federal judges have declared that NC hasn't had fair elections in at least two presidential cycles), is sent packing. Republicans are NOT a majority of voters in NC. Even during the Civil War, only about one third of the population supported the Confederacy; one-third was enslaved, and the other third was Unionist. So claims that Silent Sam somehow celebrates our heritage are bogus. The simple solution is to let institutions and municipalities decide what to do with these monstrosities, most erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy long after the war to signal white supremacy. As one who teaches in the UNC system, I was appalled by the craven agreement and am glad it has been overturned.Silent Sam belongs on the trash heap.

  2. @Philip Gerard Maybe the answer is to melt it! Then it cannot be viewed by anyone- thus no longer offending anyone.

  3. I don't get it. Why would the university give the Sons of Confederate Veterans *any* money? They were getting rid of a statue they didn't want, but another entity did want. Win/win. Why was there money involved at all? Why is there a lawsuit? What is it about? I'm perplexed.

  4. @Nadia The Board of Governors is appointed by our gerrymandered Republican controlled legislature. It was their way of forcing the university to transfer $2.5 million to a kindred group. The law that bars local governments or entities to deal with Civil War (actually Lost Cause) monuments was passed by that very same legislature to prevent forward looking elements in NC from removing these divisive statues.

  5. It was not UNC-Chapel Hill that came up with this idiotic plan, but rather the UNC Board of Governors, which oversees the state’s 16 public universities. That Board has become increasingly conservative in recent years and has shown consistent antipathy towards the flagship campus, where Silent Sam stood until torn down. In fact, Carolina is one of the nation’s top public universities, and the forced removal of such a divisive monument was long overdue. To most UNC students and alumni, the best resting place for the statue would be deep in the ocean off the Outer Banks.

  6. @PaulB67 I'm a North Carolina native and my view is don't hurt the beautiful Outer Banks with the hideous Silent Sam. Otherwise, I agree with you entirely.

  7. If they law says it can't be removed, melt it into a block and bury it. It stays.

  8. @DJ Monet The law says it cannot be altered i any way. But it does not say you cannot place other statues all around it, in close proximity and depicting the horrors of slavery.

  9. @DJ Monet Bury it head down with the base at ground level and put a statue of Harriet Tubman or Moses Grandy on top of it. That should comply with the law not to alter or remove it.

  10. "James L. Leloudis: “But the people who erected the monuments went out of their way to make it clear that they honored the living as well as the dead, and most particularly, those ex-Confederates who returned from war and committed themselves to the long, bloody and ultimately successful effort to re-establish white supremacy.” A historian should not take the complex phenomenon of memorializing the Confederate dead that occurred over more than a century and make it homogenous. There are some monuments that simply list the names of the dead from a particular town or county, and were put up shortly after the war by grieving community members. Others match Prof. Leloudis's description, and originate from the racism of the post-reconstruction period. In the civil war, the South suffered losses per capita greater than Britain did in the First World War. Self-righteously tearing down every single marker of white Southern suffering, as some propose, smacks more of revenge than sane policy.

  11. @David = a Virginian trapped in old Southern attitudes.

  12. @pb Your ad hominem comment is based on insufficient evidence.

  13. @David as another Virginian and also a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill, I must ask you to check your history...the Daughters of the Confederacy sponsored the erection of those statues many, many years after the Civil War (or as you would probably say "War Between the States"). This was done to encourage and support the White Supremacy movement.during a particular testy time in our history... not to honor the soldiers who actually fought in that horrid, costly war.

  14. We are one-fifth of the way through the 21st Century and we still have to be ground down by Southern cultural nonsense. Does anything positive happen “down South” that’s not related to food or music? That region is so ground down in its history that it drags the rest of the country down with it. They are still celebrating confederate statues dedicated by a man that took pride in “horse whipping an innocent human being”?

  15. @Practical Thoughts You're generalizing about Southerners in a way that is both uninformed and unproductive. Chapel Hill is the most liberal bastion of the southern state most likely to flip this election cycle. North Carolina is huge, populous, and diverse, with more opinions and viewpoints than can be handwaved with a simple reductive statement like yours. I won't understate the problems that the south has as a whole with its history, but it's clear that you haven't down there to see the good things, or even done your history homework. This episode is not about how bad 20 rich racists are, it's about the sea change North Carolina is experiencing. We no longer tolerate the minority that keeps these monuments up. We tear them down.

  16. @Practical Thoughts Hurricanes and oil drilling?

  17. @Reader I have lived in Chapel Hill for eleven years. The only saving grace of the area is all of the people who have moved here from outside the south. The 'natives' maintain a high level of racism, often in coded language and action. They are the most polite racists I have ever met. The sea change is the result of non-southerners moving in. That said, they still can't get here fast enough.

  18. Put on thw White House lawn. After all, doesn‘t Silent Sam represent thse “fine people on both sides”?

  19. I am not a southerner. I was born and grew up in Ohio and have lived my adult years in the far west. Many of them who fought for the South during the Civil War were forced to do so as they were conscripted. But conscripted or volunteer, southern soldiers fought valiantly. They deserve respect for their sacrifices. They honored themselves and they are rightfully a source of pride for their descendants. Their descendants should have every right to erect statues in their honor if displayed on private property.

  20. @Errol I am a Southerner and one of my great great grandfathers died at Gettsyburg. Another was captured and held as a Prisoner of War. I live in North Carolina and I want all of the memorials for Confederates to be removed and placed in a museum where they belong. This is not a part of history that many of us are proud of. Holding other people as slaves is a terrible legacy. We should only use these things as reminders to NEVER do it again. Why would anyone want to remember that part of history any other way? Should Germany be proud of the Nazis for killing over 6 million people? No, and neither should we.

  21. @Roberta Pearson Well said.

  22. @Errol I am a southerner. I grew up in North Carolina and attended the university where this statue stood. The students who tore this statue down should have buried it in an undisclosed location when they had the chance. It's an embarrassment to the state and to the school.

  23. That Silent Sam, that Silent Sam, I do not like that Silent Sam I do not want him at the school I do not want him, he ain't cool I do not like that Silent Sam.

  24. Melt the thing and make something useful with the material for an African-American community center or some such.

  25. Perhaps several statues of equal size could be placed in very close proximity, entirely surrounding this statue, and dipicting African American heros, or dipicting atrocities against slaves, such as horsewhipping. As I understand it, the law would then require that these statues also not be moved.

  26. I know some people (which could include some liberals but conservatives and such) feel that when white people take part in these protests against the confederate monuments, there's a lot of virtual signalling going on but as I've met some humanist people all over the world who truly try to better themselves each day, I have to say I' m grateful for them. Virtual signalling or not, fake it till you make it or not, I'm happy someone is at least trying to keep up appearances. I'm not talking about snake in the grass types but about those who find causes to latch on to. It would've been nice if people on both sides after the civil war would've gotten with the program and given up their bigotry.

  27. As a student at Chapel Hill in the 70s, I was embarrassed every time I had to walk by this statue. Now I’m embarrassed every time I read about the University’s fumbling attempts to solve this problem. I say lock up the darn thing and throw away the key

  28. Although this whole process smacks of Orwelllian rewriting of history, remember that the "Silent Sam" nickname comes from the UNC campus tradition that the young man depicted in the statue would only utter a sound if a virgin walked in front of him. So add "sexism" to the bronze lad's sins.

  29. If the Confederacy wishes to be honored, they should have won the war. They lost but they left their disgusting legacy of racism and violence for us to deal with to this very day. Still fighting a war for the right to keep other humans as slaves. That is what that the Confederacy was always about.

  30. @PubliusMaximus The South may have lost the last battle, but they have clearly won the war. The North had no stomach to persevere through a lengthy Reconstruction and allowed the present status; ie Southern political and social domination. Read today's article re. the Senate election in Alabama.

  31. As a UNC alumnus I must say I'm looking forward to when this statue gets melted down and turned into an anonymous park bench. It was an embarrassment when it stood on campus and somehow the Board of Governors has managed to make it even more embarrassing now that it's been rightfully toppled.

  32. Wasn’t there an additional $74,999 given to the group?

  33. As an alumnus of UNC-Chapel Hill, I am deeply ashamed of my alma mater and my native state. My father also went to UNC. He had named a gift to UNC in his Will. When the board announced the $2.5M back-room gift to the Sons of Confederate Veterans last year, my father amended his Will to remove this gift. I'm sure he is not the only one who is no longer giving any money to UNC because of this.

  34. @MidtownATL You should explain to your father that this back door gift to a Lost Cause organization was the work of our Republican controlled controlled Board of Governors trying to snake some university money to one of their kindred organizations.

  35. @Bill My father understands that very well. Sadly, UNC is tainted by the Board of Governors.

  36. @MidtownATL I am another UNC graduate and Chapel Hill resident. Bill is correct. The Board of Governors and the university are two different entities, often with divergent views and goals. One could easily make the argument that this is the perfect time to donors like your grandfather to contribute, as the more private funding the university receives, the less it is impacted by the perverse motives of the BOG.

  37. It's easy to understand why reasonable people do not wish to commemorate the racism and support of slavery that motivated the south to fight the civil war. But this does not justify the rule of the mob, which illegally and violently toppled the statue called Silent Sam a few years ago. The statue depicts, and in a sense honors, the young confederate soldiers who fought on behalf of the south in the Civil War. The statue does not honor or defend racism or the institution of slavery. As is the case with most wars, the soldiers who fought, often died, or who were frequently horribly crippled for the remainder of their lives, were too young to have set the policies over which the war was fought. In fact, many of the soldiers who fought in the Civil War, on both sides, were draftees who had no choice but to fight. And Silent Sam is silent because he does not have a cartridge box to go with his weapon. He carries a rifle, but cannot use it. There is a some repugnant speech associated with the history of this statue. But this does not justify the criminal vandalism that felled the statue. We cannot, and should not, erase history. Instead, we should learn from it.

  38. @Alex I couldn't disagree more. Your casual disregard for said speech omits the fact that it was a delivered by a member of the treasonous confederacy their beloved statue venerates. The speech recited at its dedication is as fundamental to the monument as the concrete poured. These symbols are not only commemorative, they're aspirational and, like all the monuments constructed around this time, they sought to consecrate America as a white ethnostate, burdened by the presence of the formerly enslaved and their offspring. Get rid of it. Learning from history isn't contingent upon symbols of white nationalism remaining in the public sphere.

  39. Any thoughts on the ex-Confederate soldier statements at the 1913 statue dedication that: 1. Confederates fought to ensure the Anglo-Saxon race in the South would not be “destroyed”? 2. That he was proud to “horse whip a black woman until her clothes were shredded for insulting a white woman” That’s what the Confederacy and 400 years of Southern history represents to many Americans that are tired of the retrograde politics and politicians that the South continuously re-elects over and over and over again.

  40. @Alex Hmmm... Honor the SS soldiers who died, but not those who gave the orders?

  41. Time to grow up. These tired stories of the south rising again remind me of my childhood in Atlanta. I agree with all the "melt it down" and make something new. Living in the past helps no one. Fire away!

  42. Two thoughts. First, great are is supposed to inspire controversy, so this statue must be great art. Secondly, and seriously, voiding this deal seems ridiculous to me. The Sons want the statue, and agree to not display it anywhere near a UNC campus. UNC wants it gone. This deal satisfies both parties with a horse in the race; the current owners and the potential owners. It should have been a done deal.

  43. @michaelscody Paying $2.5 million to white supremacists with no standing is a shameful act of cowardice. No such thing should ever be a 'done deal.'

  44. What to do about monuments that arose from a war to defend a states right to keep slaves will eventually be resolved legally. What surprised me was that when college educated people were, nevertheless, inclined to illegal acts against statues, they used brawn instead of their education. For example, was there not a single inorganic chemist among them? Of course, damaging a statue in any way would be illegal. Instead, I plead that everyone lets matters take their legal and political course. Surely, after 160 years the bigots are slowly dying off and this stain on America will be corrected without resorting to illegal acts.

  45. @D Na, Great comment! A simple "recommend" wasn't enough praise.

  46. I grew up in New York and California, but I have maternal ancestors from North Carolina who fought as members of the North Carolina regiments who comprised a part of Pickett's Duvision; i.e. Pickett's Charge at Seminary Ridge on the third day of Gettysburg. Fortunately my ancestors, for the most part, survived. The obvious question, why did they fight for the Confederacy? They were subsistence farmers, working family farmers; not plantation owners, not slave owners. Simple farmers grinding it out day to day. Why did they fight? According to letters and oral tradition they fought because they saw the advance of the Union Army into neighboring Virginia as an armed invasion of their homeland. Isn't it all possible to simultaneously both vociferously condemn slavery while rendering a degree of honor to these young men who thought they were defending their homes from armed invasion?

  47. @BD The Confederacy started the war in order to preserve their way of life....slavery. Please see the ordinances of secession. I can understand your need to recast your ancestors intent but the facts remain they were fighting for a government which maintained that the right for white people to own any person of color was sacred. And that any person of color was less than a white person. It is only the recognition of those facts which will allow the stains and burdens accrued since 1619 to lift.

  48. It’s not necessary to condemn your ancestors. But they, and others like them, should not be celebrated in grand monuments on public space. Put these monuments at cemeteries or museums or battlefields, or private property.

  49. @BD Thank you for your comment. I currently live in a mountain town in NC where very few owned slaves but many fought for the Confederacy, and I have wondered about their motivation. There was certainly no "armed Union invasion" here; the mostly poor troops marched off anyway. And, even in Virginia, many signed up as soon as Sumter fell, months before any Northern "invasion" took place. Perhaps peer pressure and a feeling belonging to the US also played a part? It's also worth pointing out that not every subsistence farmer was enthusiastically roused to the cause. There was a good deal of resentment among the less wealthy when when the Confederacy instituted a draft in 1862 -- and carefully excused those who owned more than 20 slaves from serving.

  50. I walked past Silent Sam many times as a grad student at UNC back at the beginning of the '80's and every time my guts twisted in disgust. I'm glad it's gone as are most people who have passed through UNC, as it dishonored all the great scholars and athletes who proudly called themselves Tar Heels. Melt it down, re-cast it as Ramses, the school mascot. Donate the bronze to the Olympics to make medals. There's nothing honorable about treason in order to keep millions of people as property so a few could live well off their stolen labor and lives. Silent Sam was like an infected boil that doesn't reflect the school that gave us Thomas Wolf, C. Vann Woodward, Dean Smith, Lawrence Taylor, and Michael Jordan.

  51. Melt it down. Greater statues and art pieces have been lost to time. This one wont be missed

  52. I must say it baffles me that people who consider themselves to be American patriots seek to honor the Confederate Battle Flag which was carried into vicious battles against “ Old Glory”. They want to honor the traitors who were dedicated to the destruction of the United States for what?.....for the preservation of the practice of holding other human beings as slaves. This talk of honoring Southern Heritage is disingenuous.

  53. First off I want to note that on this issue I am a "melt-it-downer." I understand and support the students who tore it down and I think the idea of selling it for millions of dollars to a group that undoubtedly contains some white supremacists is shameful. However, what surprises me is that I was on the Chapel Hill campus five days a week from 2000-2005 (grad school) and I don't think I ever looked closely enough at that statue to even notice it was a confederate soldier. I also have no memory of anyone ever mentioning the name "Silent Sam" or any discussion around any statue on campus. This isn't becasue UNC-CH is a bastion of white racists. Its a liberal campus with professors and grad students from many different areas of the country and world. 30% of my grad cohort were AA or biracial. I remember many discussions about the how racist some of the political figures were in NC (most particularly Jesse Helms) but nothing else. I mention all this because (for better and for worse) I think it illustrates that the US is much more politicized and polarized than it was before. I think another manifestation of this is how many years it has been since I have heard a friend say "I'm just apolitical, I don't like any politicians, i don't vote and I ignore politics." I guess at this point everyone has to take a stand and none of us can assume that America will remain free(ish) without a fight!

  54. @Kurt I graduated from Chapel Hill in ‘98 and we all knew the statue was called Silent Sam and it was pointed out by the docents on new and prospective student tours. As an out of state student raised in the Northeast, I always found Silent Sam disturbing and whenever I passed the statue on campus it reminded me that, as a “Yankee” I was not entirely welcome.

  55. You were probably unaware of the statue because you were a grad student, and might not have frequented the historic part of campus. Undergraduates and visitors would not escape being shown the statue and told that the gun would go off every time a virgin walked by. This was part of the official campus tour for high school recruits. A gross conflation of racism and rape culture. Melt it down for sure!

  56. Reporting in this article and others has shown that this monument was not simply a neutral memorial to ordinary soldiers who sacrificed during military service. It was viewed from its inception as also being a monument to racism and forcible racial control. Does the corrupt original intent of the statue, however, preclude it now from being regarded in a different context? Symbols are what you make of them. I regard Confederate memorials as reminders of the tragic and wasteful loss of life, health and wealth suffered in waging a treasonous war to perpetuate the evil of slavery. They remind me of personal sacrifice amid the foolishness of human institutions and the ubiquity of evil. I would rather have a disturbing reminder of the Civil War than to forget its terrible lessons altogether. [Yes, the Civil War was fought over slavery. Virtually all of the ordinances of secession made that abundantly clear.]

  57. @Michael McLemore, Maybe the statue could be changed or put into context to make your anti-Civil War lesson clear? Right now, the symbolism is enough to intimidate and anger students at UNC. Maybe putting it somewhere else would be more effective.

  58. @Michael McLemore Not having monuments dedicated to the losing side in a war doesn't mean it will be forgotten. Better to memorialize the victims, as in Auschwitz and others, than to erect statues to the perpetrators. Future generations who's memory doesn't include the atrocities need to see the results, not glorification of the people who committed them.

  59. The most reasonable solution would be to put it into a Museum of History in Raleigh-as a historical piece and not as a monument to Confederacy-living or dead. A State museum of other pieces of NC history should be a good place to finish the final resting place of this quasi-confederate soldier who has no real reason now to be displayed in public-outside of a historical museum.

  60. The fact that so many here are condoning the destruction of a American veterans memorial is sickening and frightening at the same time. When did so-called liberals, which I assume most of the people here would call themselves, start cheering the very things that made the Taliban and ISIS infamous?

  61. Confederate veterans are not American veterans. They fought against the United States . I think of these whenever someone wants to put a cross or Ten Commandments display on public property. It's not there to promote a noble cause. It's there to exclude anyone who isn't part of that tribe.

  62. @Chris M. It’s not the same thing.

  63. @Chris M. They were not American veterans. They were traitors.

  64. Is America the only country on earth where so many statues honoring people who lost a war there can be found? Are there statues of German soldiers in Russia? Japanese soldiers in China?

  65. Surely the most reasonable resolution would be to melt down this piece of mass-produced kitsch and use its many tons of bronze to make a fitting monument to the victims of enslavement.

  66. Leave it smashed on the ground. That's where it belongs.

  67. I studied and worked at UNC off and on between 1988 and 2014. Undergraduates and visitors would not escape being shown the statue and told that the gun would go off every time a virgin walked by. This was part of the official campus tour for high school recruits. A gross conflation of racism and rape culture. Melt it down for sure!

  68. As a Chapel Hill resident for thirty-seven years, I can report another ugly dimension to the saga of this sad monument: a perverse joke (often shared with visitors on campus tours) that Sam is silent because his gun only goes off when a virgin walks by.

  69. As a former UNC student, I say melt it down and make banjo tonerings from it. Let it play Coo Coo Bird and Shortnin’ Bread. That would put it to good use.

  70. The destruction of the statues is disgraceful. All of a sudden the "PC" crowd complains and law abiding citizens have to suffer the consequences. The Civil War has been over for a long time but this crowd appears to be itching to start another one.

  71. Why are there monuments to Generals of a loosing army? We don’t see statues of Nazi generals in a public square or educational institutions? Couldn’t the same logic be used to justify both? This monument as with other Confederate statues were created for one purpose only. To intimate and cower people of color by those having lost a war to continue to impose a culture of slavery and supremacy.

  72. @Donald, could you not read where this statue came from and what purpose it served? The statue was erected by a group so strung out on racist fear that it was concerned with the "very life of the Anglo Saxon race in the South". It served to intimidate black students like Karl Adkins, UNC '68. Destruction of the statue isn't "disgraceful". The OED defines disgrace as a noun, "loss of reputation or respect as the result of a dishonorable action." Racism, slavery, and the oppression of people based on their skin color is a "dishonorable action". Erecting a statue to continue the oppression is dishonorable. The statue itself is a disgrace. It is such an insult and embarrassment to UNC students that they took it down. The "PC" crowd can be seen as the "be a decent human" crowd. And how is it that "law abiding citizens" (who isn't law abiding?) are suffering "the consequences"? What are your consequences?

  73. As a daughter of the Confederacy with many ancestors who fought for it, I believe Silent Sam and his companions are frightening symbols of a shameful aspect of US history. I am not proud of my ancestors' involvement in slavery, the confederacy and the subsequent devolution into white supremacist culture, Jim Crow and all the horrors they perpetrated on African Americans. I think Confederate monuments such as Silent Sam should be placed at some of the many memorial civil war battle grounds such as Antietam, as relics of a horrendous US history marked by slavery, war, and the treachery of racism. Each statue could have a plaque explaining the full, real story of slavery and white supremacy. Without that, these statues are basically monuments memorialzing the myths that perpetuate systemic white supremacy. I know for a fact these ttpes of statues terrorize African Americans and for that reason alone they should NOT be allowed to stand in public places; decency and respect dictate we mind our history and our behavior to reflect reparation of historical harm and reconciliation towards those whose ancestors were harmed by enslavement, white supremacy culture and racism.

  74. I live in a North Carolina county that is not simultaneously burdened and blessed by a UNC campus. That in itself fuels division in a complex battle that has been fought under the surface of a “civil” society for hundreds of years, hidden from view for anyone who doesn't want to see it. My fear about this hellish deal ...and I don’t scare easily... was that Silent Sam was coming to a pedestal near “us,” defended as an attraction that would bring visitors and jobs for the poor folks. In my experience, the only people harder to have a rational conversation with than a “native” of the south who feels the need to defend Silent Sam or his brethren are the economic developers from both here and away who just want it all to go away so they can continue taking advantage of the cheap labor, Black, brown, and white, the poor people who continue to be divided by others who think they know better, unable to recognize common concerns, in the name of “good business.”

  75. Those monuments were put up at a time when those who had destroyed the gains of Reconstruction and brought back bigotry were entrenched in the power structure of the South. Though they are gone there are those who would like nothing better to reestablish the environment which was present from the late 1800s through the early 1960s. They should be torn down!

  76. The biggest mistake of Reconstruction was letting the former Confederate states rejoin the US so easily and so quickly. They should have become US territories governed by the national government for at least a generation and its residents should have been denied to right to vote.

  77. As a student at UNC in the 1970s I remember someone pointing out Silent Sam as an something incredibly stupid at UNC. We laughed. Actually laughter, ridicule and jokes about Silent Sam is all I remember. We thought the university might be run by fossils, who took themselves very seriously. Silent Sam inspired us what not to be. We absolutely wanted to avoid being one of the dinosaurs at a conference room table. I am surprised to see after all these years — still only dinosaurs at the helm.