Silent Sam (1913-2018)
Backstory and Context
While organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and the White Leagues received the greatest attention, white Southerners also formed institutions that sought to control the historical narrative of the antebellum South, slavery, and the Civil War. By the 1890s, local organizations and newly-created national organizations such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy were raising funds for a different kind of Civil War memorial. In contrast to the monuments of the post-war period that were located at cemeteries and battlefields, the monuments of the late 19th and early 20th century were increasingly located in prominent public spaces that reflected the goals of these organizations to "vindicate the South" and "Southern institutions"- a contemporary reference to the institution of chattel slavery.
Memorials dedicated during this period placed Confederate military leaders in heroic poses and featured dedication ceremonies that celebrated the "Old South" and its racial hierarchy. While this monument demonstrates many of the features of early memorials, the dedication speech by former Confederate General Julian Carr was full of references to the superiority of the "Anglo-Saxon race." While his speech made few references to specific battles where North Carolina men engaged in combat, Carr made a point to defend and even celebrate acts of physical violence against African Americans that were intended to defend the racial hierarchy of the "Old South."
During the growing tension between 2015 and the toppling of the statue in 2018, defenders of the statue including neo-Confederate groups and university administrators who took actions against some of the student protesters minimized the significance of the history of the UDC and significance of Carr's celebration of "Anglo-Saxon superiority" in the monument's dedication speech. They pointed out that the monument honored the actions of UNC students who served in the Confederate army and the inscription on the statue that honors the many "sons of the university" who fought in the Civil War. Minimizing of the cause of the Confederacy and the historical context of the creation of Confederate monuments in the early 1900s, defenders of the statue pointed out that Silent Sam also celebrated the values inherent in military service. The monument's inscription did not mention the cause of the war or its creators' desire to vindicate the antebellum South. Like most other wartime memorials, it only lauded the valor and sacrifice of Confederate troops "whose lives taught the lesson of their great commander that duty is the sublimest word in the English language." The large plaque on the front of the piece shows a woman (North Carolina) reaching out to a student to persuade him to fight. Inside Memorial Hall, plaques list the names of the student-soldiers to whom Sam pays tribute.
Former Confederate General Julian Carr's dedication speech celebrated the connection between the Confederacy and white supremacy. In addition to repeated praise of the "Anglo-Saxon race," Carr suggested that the soldiers were noble owing to their possession of the "purest strain" of white blood. Carr even bragged that he had "horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirt hung in shreds" because he believed that she had insulted a white woman. In contrast to many statues and monuments that were genuinely intended to mourn and honor Confederate soldiers at cemeteries, this monument demonstrates a desire to celebrate white supremacy and deny the history and perspectives of white and black Southerners who fought against it.
Given this background, the presence of this monument on the UNC campus generates rigorous and heated debates. The statue has been vandalized several times, and many call for its removal. Defenders of Silent Sam argue that his presence on campus testifies to North Carolina's history and honors the sacrifice of Carolina students who died in battle. Silent Sam's detractors point to Julian Carr's 1913 dedication speech and several anti-civil rights rallies that were held at the monument throughout the 20th century. For many students, the solution is not so simple as a decision to keep or remove the statue. Several historians and student groups have proposed measures to better situate the statue in a historical context. For example, the Real Silent Sam Coalition, a group of Chapel Hill students, faculty, and staff offered this resolution in 2015:
We DEMAND that a plaque be placed on The Confederate Monument “Silent Sam” contextualizing its violent racial history. The monument is about so much more than the UNC students who fought for the Confederacy. It is about celebrating the preservation of the “Anglo-Saxon race” in the South. It is about marking this campus as a space that upholds white supremacy. Generations of students, faculty, and staff have fought for this violence to be formally recognized. We will not let it be ignored any longer.
We DEMAND that the University incorporate mandatory programming for incoming students that teaches the historical racial violence of this university and town, as well as anti-racism training for faculty, staff, administrators, deans, and chairs. There is a culture of tolerance towards racism at this university, which must be called out and addressed.
(Go to 'sources' for a link to the complete manifesto).
A statement following the Board of Governor's meeting on August 28, 2018, has been issued. In the statement, a deadline is set for November 15, 2018, to provide a plan of action for the Confederate Monument. The plan of action is said to address the UNC core missions of education, research, and economic stimulation. The statement identifies one option that includes a location on campus where the monument would be placed in prominence, honor, visibility, and access. This option is said to ensure public safety, ensure the monument's preservation and place in the history of UNC and the nation.
On December 3, 2018, Administrators at UNC proposed a $5.3 million building to display the statue. UNC Chancellor Carol Folt said the new indoor facility would be built on campus. The new structure would cost $5.3 million and $800,000 in annual costs. The new structure would provide a historical context for the statue and the university's history. The project is expected to be completed in early-2022 to mid-2022.
On January 14, 2019, UNC Chancellor Carol Folt announced that the pedestal and plaques left of Silent Sam would be removed. Chancellor Folt also announced she was resigning as Chancellor of UNC. By the next day, the Silent Sam pedestal and plaques were gone. The same day, the panel that oversees public universities in North Carolina accepted Folt's resignation effective January 31, 2019.
Silent Sam was part of a wider debate on university campuses (including also the renaming of buildings) about how difficult histories should be remembered and framed in the present. Statements by students and professors who opposed the statue emphasized their understanding of history informed by the work of David Blight and Karen Cox whose books on the memory of the Civil War and the history of the United Daughters of the Confederacy is linked below.
"As Time Goes By Sam Seems to Get Noisier." Carolina Alumni Review. November/December 2011. 10-11. Available here: http://www.carolinaalumnireview.com/carolinaalumnireview/20111112?search_term=sam&doc_id=61146&pg=12...
"Black and Blue Tour." University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. http://blackandblue.web.unc.edu/. Created by Tim McMillan.
"Breaking the Silence About Sam." Carolina Alumni Review. May/June 2000. 14-15. Available here: http://www.carolinaalumnireview.com/carolinaalumnireview/20000506?pg=16#pg16.
"Confederate Monument." UNC Graduate School. Accessed February 11, 2017. http://gradschool.unc.edu/funding/gradschool/weiss/interesting_place/landmarks/sam.html.
"Memorial to Civil War Soldiers of the University." Commemorative Landscapes. Accessed February 11, 2017. http://docsouth.unc.edu/commland/monument/41/.
"The Real Silent Sam Coalition: Manifesto 2015." The Siren: UNC-Chapel Hill's Feminist Magazine. April 06, 2015. Available here: http://uncsiren.com/real-silent-sam-coalition-manifesto-spring-2015/.
Huntsberry, Will. At UNC, Silent Sam romanticizes the Civil War and the old South. Indy Week. May 05, 2013. Accessed March 28, 2017. http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/at-unc-silent-sam-romanticizes-the-civil-war-and-the-old-south/Cont...
Statement following Board of Governors’ Resolution on Aug. 28, 2018. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill News. August 28, 2018. Accessed September 08, 2018. https://uncnews.unc.edu/2018/08/28/statement-following-board-of-governors-resolution-on-aug-28-2018/.
Recommendation for the Disposition and Preservation of the Confederate Monument. BOT UNC. December 03, 2018. Accessed December 04, 2018. https://bot.unc.edu/files/2018/12/Final-Report.pdf.
Levenson, Eric, Vera, Amir. UNC proposes new $5.3 million building to house 'Silent Sam' Confederate statue. CNN. December 03, 2018. Accessed December 04, 2018. https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/03/us/unc-silent-sam-statue/index.html.
Wall, Julia. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The News & Observer via Associated Press, January 15, 2019, https://www.post-gazette.com/news/education/2019/01/15/UNC-chancellor-Carol-Folt-resignation-Confederate-Silent-Sam-statue-removed/stories/201901150171