As Confederate monuments sprinkled across the country were steadily being removed or repurposed, one of the nation’s most respected public colleges has decided to do the opposite. Silent Sam, the Confederate statue on the University of North Carolina’s main campus that was toppled by protesters in August, will find a new, permanent home elsewhere on the school’s sprawling grounds in Chapel Hill, university officials recommended on Monday.
The entire undertaking, including the construction of a new building that would house Silent Sam, was reportedly expected to cost $5.3 million, a figure that didn’t include an estimated $800,000 annually for maintenance.
The move seemingly ignored the chorus of pleas by UNC’s community of Black faculty and students alike, which had been calling for the monument to never be erected again on campus.
“We have witnessed a monument that represents white supremacy in both the past and present be venerated and protected at the same time that we have been asked to serve as examples of diversity and inclusion. That is a demoralizing burden,” nearly 60 Black UNC faculty members wrote in a Washington Post op-ed published in September that asked university officials to consider not reinstalling Silent Sam. “A monument to white supremacy, steeped in a history of violence against Black people, and that continues to attract white supremacists, creates a racially hostile work environment and diminishes the University’s reputation worldwide.”
UNC Student Body President Savannah Putnam said Silent Sam “does not belong” on campus and does not serve students, according to the News Observer.
UNC’s recommendation stood in stark contrast to rival Duke University, located just eight miles away, which announced on Saturday that it would change the name of a campus building named for “a white supremacist who fought for the confederacy and gave a fiery speech in 1913 at the Silent Sam statue dedication,” according to local news outlet WRAL.
“Complicating the picture is a 2015 state law that generally bars the removal of historic objects of remembrance on state property,” the News Observer wrote Monday. “The law limits the options for relocating a monument, though it does allow removal to preserve an object or to make way for construction. The law does not address a case of a monument having been forcibly moved, as in the case of the Aug. 20 protest that brought down Silent Sam.”
Duke in 2017 also removed its own confederate monument from its campus in Durham, but because it is a private university the aforementioned state law didn’t apply.
“Erected in 1913, in remembrance of ‘the sons of the University who died for their beloved Southland 1861-1865,’ the Confederate monument known as Silent Sam stands on McCorkle place, the University’s upper quad, facing Franklin Street,” according to an online description credited to UNC grad school.
At the time Silent Sam was brought down, UNC Chancellor Carol Folt seemed to be wistful that the racist statue was no longer on campus.
“The monument has been divisive for years, and its presence has been a source of frustration for many people not only on our campus but throughout the community. However,” Folt lamented, “last night’s actions were unlawful and dangerous, and we are very fortunate that no one was injured. The police are investigating the vandalism and assessing the full extent of the damage.”
The result of Monday’s decisive meeting was people sounding off across social media with disappointment at UNC’s apparent indifference to how Silent Sam’s presence might make it students and faculty feel. Below is a sampling of sentiments shared on social media.
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