UNC’s Confederate monument would be moved to a new building on the southern edge of the campus that also would house a center for exhibits and education on the University’s history — with an emphasis on aspects that are not sources of pride — under a trustees-approved measure that, to be enacted, requires concurrence of the UNC System Board of Governors.
Chancellor Carol L. Folt and several of the trustees made it clear during a special meeting Monday that their preference would be to not have the controversial statue on the campus but that they were convinced state law prohibits that.
Instead, a new center would be built in the former Odum Village, a community of early 1960s buildings that housed students with families and which is in the process of being demolished to allow for redevelopment. Odum is about 1.5 miles from the statue’s original site in McCorkle Place — essentially on the opposite end of the campus.
The estimated cost is $5.3 million, plus $800,000 in annual operating funds, which would include educational programming. The money is not in any budget, but Folt said she was confident funding could be found with the trustees’ support. The building would have a classroom and space for changeable exhibits.
Though now a little-trafficked part of the campus between the Kenan-Flagler Business School and the medical and research complex, the area is targeted for significant growth and is near a proposed light rail station. A new campus master plan awaiting the trustees’ approval shows several sites in the vicinity that could support new academic, residential or administrative buildings depending on future need and funding.
The Confederate monument known as Silent Sam became a lightning rod for protests over racism that culminated in its forced removal by protesters on Aug. 20, the evening before the start of fall semester classes. It had become a recurring headache for campus police, who had guarded it 24/7 since August 2017, and who dealt with protests that sometimes turned violent. The monument, commissioned by the Daughters of the Confederacy, was erected in 1913 “in memory of all University students, living and dead, who served in the Confederacy.”
The police, among many entities that weighed in on the issue, recommended to the chancellor that the statue be housed in a single-purpose, free-standing building where it could be properly secured and where the public could both view it and be subject to control.
Another large-scale protest erupted Monday night. Hundreds of people, overwhelmingly opposing the trustees’ decision, marched on Franklin Street, Cameron Avenue and through McCorkle Place. They stopped to hear speakers on the north side of South Building. Police put on riot gear at one point, but the march ended peacefully.
A week after the statue was pulled down in August, the trustees and the UNC System Board of Governors met on the same day and passed resolutions calling for a “lawful and lasting” plan to preserve the monument with attention to safety. The Board of Governors’ resolution directed the chancellor and trustees to devise and submit such a plan, which the Board of Governors is expected to consider on Dec. 14.
Folt said at that time that the “nation’s eyes are upon us” and said shortly afterward that there was a place on the campus for the monument but not at its “front door” — meaning, not in McCorkle Place.
“We did look primarily at on-campus sites,” Folt said Monday. “We did look at some off-campus locations … we don’t own those sites. It is our preference to move to an off-campus location, but it is not possible within the current law.”
A state law enacted in 2015 prohibits removal of historic monuments; it stipulates that any monument removed temporarily must be replaced within 90 days.
There has been a lively — and inconclusive — discussion about what the law means for relocation of Silent Sam. On Monday, UNC’s general counsel, Mark Merritt ’79, said the N.C. Historical Commission would have to approve the relocation of an “object of remembrance” such as Silent Sam. Merritt said the law effectivelyprohibits relocation to a museum, a cemetery or a mausoleum.
Folt said the University did not attempt to have the law changed.
The resolution approved Monday includes construction of a campus “gateway” near the original site of the statue in McCorkle Place, just off Franklin Street, that would include historical markers designed to address aspects of UNC’s history such as the use of slave labor to build the early campus and the University’s history during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era.
The trustees were shown a floor plan for the proposed Center for History and Education in Odum Village, though a specific site within the area has not been pinpointed.
Silent Sam’s presence has made some people and groups unhappy at intervals since the 1950s. The outcry against its continued presence has grown louder in the past 10 years. An organization of students and others called the Real Silent Sam Coalition emerged in about 2011, calling the statue offensive to people of color and at first suggesting UNC erect a reinterpretation plaque to explain it.
Students have said they are insulted by its presence — what they call a symbol of the Confederacy’s loyalty to the institution of slavery — some adding that they didn’t feel safe when counterprotesters came to the campus.
Others see Silent Sam as a tribute to those who fought for their homeland in the Civil War, perhaps without regard to the slavery issue. Many have said that removing the statue would be detrimental to the understanding of history.
Rallies grew angrier about the time that the UNC trustees voted in May 2015 to change the name of Saunders Hall; William Saunders, an 1854 graduate of UNC, was the North Carolina leader of the Ku Klux Klan in the late 19th century.
Two members of the board voted against the proposal on Monday. One of them, student body President Savannah Putnam, said keeping Silent Sam on the campus was not in the interest of students.
Trustee William Keyes ’75 (’18 PhD) took the floor during the meeting to decry the institution of slavery and the Jim Crow era in the early part of the 20th century. Keyes, the only African-American member of the board, attempted to put into context how people of color often react to the statue, some to the point of avoiding McCorkle Place.
“The monument was erected more than a hundred years ago, 1913, during the period in which white racists were reasserting their domination over black people and using various means such as the erection of statues like Silent Sam to promote white supremacy,” Keyes said.
“We cannot ignore what the war was fought over. This monument is a reminder that black people were owned by white people as property. … This is a source of anger that seethes within many African-Americans. The presence of monuments like Silent Sam make it more difficult for some people to contain anger that’s always present. Racial reconciliation is one of my greatest priorities.”
In leading up to the trustees’ vote, WUNC radio reported on Nov. 29 that Keyes had worked during the apartheid era as a paid “political operative” for the government of South Africa. Keyes responded by telling WUNC that assertions that he worked against the anti-apartheid efforts of Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress were misconstrued.
“I can say that I have seen a lot of things attributed to me that I never said and activities that I actually never participated in,” Keyes told WUNC.
A free-standing building may be the only acceptable solution for keeping the statue on the campus. Library administrators have pleaded that the statue not be placed in any University library, leaving few practical locations. Fifty-four black faculty members signed a letter that read in part: “In 1913, the Confederate monument did not stand in opposition to the stated values and mission of the University. In 2018, it most certainly does. … 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.”
After the statue was pulled down in August, social media was filled with comments from people who decidedly did not agree that the statue should have come down.
The North Carolina division of Sons of Confederate Veterans demanded the return of Silent Sam to its pedestal — “its rightful place.”
In September, the conservative Civitas Institute released a statewide poll that said 70 percent of those likely to vote in the November elections did not approve of the statue’s removal.
The Chronicle for Higher Education characterized Folt’s dilemma: “On a state-university campus that largely wants to purge itself of the statue, in a state whose residents don’t, Folt is in a bind.”
In 2015, after the trustees voted to rename Saunders Hall, an elaborate exhibit was created in what is now Carolina Hall to place Saunders’ role in the context of the late 19th century.
In October, another prominent campus honor became an issue. The University decided it will remove the name of William Rand Kenan Sr. from the plaque at the north gate of Kenan Memorial Stadium on which the stadium is dedicated to Kenan and his wife, Mary Hargrave Kenan.
Kenan, a member of the class of 1864, was deeply involved in the infamous 1898 incident in Wilmington in which dozens, and perhaps hundreds, of black people were killed in a violent overthrow of the town’s government. Kenan, a veteran of the Civil War, was in command of a squad that operated a rapid-firing machine gun from the bed of a wagon. According to accounts of eyewitnesses, the gun was used to fire into the homes of black residents and to intimidate others.
The honor of the stadium naming was shifted to Kenan’s son, William Rand Kenan Jr. (class of 1894), who initiated the dedication to his parents.
Calls for removal of the statue — and rallies for its support — have occurred periodically for decades.
1908 Trustees approve erection of a monument by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in memory of UNC students who joined the Civil War effort. 1913 Dedication of what was then called the Soldiers’ monument includes a speech by Confederate veteran, trustee and industrialist Julian S. Carr (class of 1866) that includes an account of having “horse-whipped a negro wench” near the site, because “she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady.” 1954 Apparently first use of the name Silent Sam, in The Daily Tar Heel, due to the fact the soldier carried no ammunition. 1965 A letter appears in The DTH that asks whether the statue is a racist symbol that should be removed. 1968 Graffiti appears on Silent Sam at the time of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. 1971 and again in 1973, UNC’s Black Student Movement holds protests at the statue after the deaths of black men killed by a motorcycle gang and by police. 1992 Silent Sam is the site chosen for Chancellor Paul Hardin and others to speak to students about the controversial beating of Rodney King by the Los Angeles police and the issue of whether UNC should erect a freestanding Black Cultural Center. 2000 February: Gerald Horne, then director of UNC’s Black Cultural Center, writes a newspaper column in which he likens the statue to a Confederate battle flag and says it was hypocrisy and slavery denial for UNC to leave it standing. 2011 September: Members of the Real Silent Sam Coalition hold a protest at the statue, calling it offensive and suggesting UNC erect a reinterpretation plaque to explain it. 2015 January: Students lead a large, angry rally around Silent Sam, demand the renaming of Saunders Hall for author and activist Zora Neale Hurston. April: UNC trustees hold a special meeting to hear comments on the name-change issue. May: Trustees vote 10-3 to change Saunders to Carolina Hall, approve a 16-year moratorium on other renamings and order “curating” of UNC’s racial history. July: Vandals deface Silent Sam, painting “KKK” and “murderer.” N.C. General Assembly enacts a law prohibiting removal of any publicly sited “monument of remembrance.” September: Chancellor Carol L. Folt announces a task force to carry out the trustees’ directives. November: Students of color speak out at a large rally outside South Building in the aftermath of racial unrest at the University of Missouri; a week later, a town hall meeting fills Memorial Hall, where students present a long list of demands. 2016 January: Chancellor Folt meets with leaders of the movement, who amplify demands; later she reports to the campus on required racial sensitivity training for administrators and a dedicated gathering place for black students, and she promises results of a survey on diversity. November: Carolina Hall lobby display is unveiled. 2017 August: UNC Police erect two concentric circles of steel barricades around Silent Sam in anticipation of a protest rally that evening, amid talk that the statue might be taken down. Gov. Roy Cooper ’79 (’82 JD) tells UNC officials they can take it down in the event of an imminent threat to public safety and security. UNC attorneys decide not to challenge the law. November: Trustees hold a listening session on Silent Sam — 28 people speak, two of whom support keeping the statue. Folt says: “I’d like to reiterate that, if I had the authority, in the interest of public safety, I would remove the monument to a safer location on our campus, where we could preserve, protect and teach from it. What I heard yesterday reinforced that belief.” A campus police officer goes undercover at the statue to engage both sides in conversation. 2018 May: Graduate student Maya Little throws red ink and what she says was her own blood on Silent Sam in full view of the police assigned to protect it and is arrested. July: UNC reports it spent about $390,000 to provide police security for Silent Sam, July 2017 through June 2018. Aug. 20: A Franklin Street protest is a diversion for an organized offensive on the statue, and protesters pull it off its pedestal, igniting a response marked by jubilation and by angry street confrontations. Aug. 25: A group of Confederate monument supporters clashes just off Franklin Street with those supporting removal. Aug. 28: Board of Governors passes a resolution directing Folt and the trustees to come up with a “lawful and lasting” plan to preserve the monument with attention to safety, and it sets a Nov. 15 deadline. Aug. 31: As of this date, a total of 17 people had been arrested related to three protest events; of those, 16 were not affiliated with the University. December: UNC announces it will ask for the Board of Governors’ approval to build a $5.3 million Center for History and Education, where Silent Sam would be on display indoors.