Silent Sam’s fate has been settled: The Confederate statue many at UNC didn’t want has been given to the Sons of Confederate Veterans by the UNC System Board of Governors in a settlement of a lawsuit filed by that group.
Up to $2.5 million provided by the system in nonstate funds will be available to the organization through a trust set up by the system to transport the statue and preserve it.
The agreement stipulates that the statue cannot be displayed in any county that is home to one of the 17 system campuses. That includes the state’s largest counties — Mecklenburg, Wake, Guilford, Durham, Forsyth, Buncombe and New Hanover — as well as Orange.
The future of the statue, which was pulled down by protesters in August 2018 and its pedestal removed by executive order in January 2019, appears to have been settled before a consent judgment actually was filed. The Board of Governors met in private at 10 a.m. on Nov. 27, having called the meeting two days earlier. The filing time stamp on the judgment by Judge Allen Baddour ’93 (’97 JD) in N.C. Superior Court in Hillsborough is 11:10 a.m. that day. The system office reported the judgment in a news release that afternoon without explanation of the order of events.
Details appear to have been worked out days before: The system’s interim president, Dr. William Roper, signed the judgment on Nov. 26, and BOG Chair Randy Ramsey signed it on Nov. 22.
The N.C. Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans asserted in its complaint that the United Daughters of the Confederacy — which had the statue erected in 1913 — had requested two days after the statue was pulled down that it be returned to UDC and that the UNC System had failed to do so.
The defendant in the complaint is the 17-campus UNC System and its Board of Governors — not the Chapel Hill campus. The complaint made some references to Carolina specifically, stating that the removal of the statue was a breach of the contract made between the University and the UDC more than a century ago.
A state law enacted in 2015 prohibits removal of historic monuments on public property. The complaint said that when the system failed to restore the statue to its original location on the campus within 90 days of its removal, as specified in the law, ownership reverted to UDC.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans’ complaint asked that the monument be restored to its site in McCorkle Place and that, “in the alternative,” it become the property of the Sons of the Confederacy, to which UDC handed over all rights, title and interests prior to the judgment.
The system reported that a judge on Wednesday entered a consent judgment in a lawsuit filed by the N.C. Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans, which asserted various legal claims against the system and the Board of Governors concerning the disposition of the monument.
“This settlement involving the UNC System, the Board of Governors, and SCV prioritizes the safety and security of the University community, including students, faculty, staff, and visitors,” the statement said. “The settlement also allows the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University System to focus on its core mission of teaching, education, and research.”
The statement said the system will fund a charitable trust to be held independently by a nonparty trustee in the amount of $2.5 million, “the proceeds of which may only be used for certain limited expenses related to the care and preservation of the monument, including potentially a facility to house and display the monument.”
The statement did not elaborate on the source of the funds.
Under other terms of the settlement:
• SCV owns all rights, title and interests in the monument;
• The system will turn over possession of the monument to SCV;
• SCV will forever maintain possession of the monument outside any of the 14 counties currently containing a system constituent institution.
In early 2019, five members of the UNC System Board of Governors — Darrell Allison ’99 (JD), Jim Holmes, Wendy Murphy, Anna Spangler Nelson and Bob Rucho — were tasked to work with UNC to find a solution for the monument that is safe and compliant with the law.
“This means Silent Sam will never return to our campus,” UNC Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz wrote in a message to the campus community. “I offer my deepest appreciation to Interim President Bill Roper, UNC Board of Governors Chair Randy Ramsey and members of the UNC Board of Governors — particularly Darrell Allison, Jim Holmes, Wendy Murphy, Anna Nelson and Bob Rucho— for resolving this matter.”
In a letter to members of the SCV, the group’s commander, Kevin Stone, said the group had been trying to have the statue restored to its location or turned over to the SCV since shortly after it was taken down. Stone said that earlier this year the BOG approached the group “and wanted to open negotiations,” which he said went on “for many months.”
“Our biggest advantage was the extremely adverse publicity they were receiving,” the letter said. “They heard we were preparing to file a suit. … While they were not at all worried about losing, the prospect of another media circus on campus really had them worried, especially given that they have a hostile faculty at UNC and a very nervous donor pool that shies away from any controversy. They suggested that we try to reach a solution for Silent Sam via the legislature and get the House and Senate to sign off on a deal that would satisfy the law, us, and UNC.”
He said that the group had become convinced it could not win a lawsuit against the University or the UNC System. At one point, the group proposed changes that would strengthen the 2015 historic monuments law in exchange for being given possession of Silent Sam — that did not clear the N.C. Senate, Stone said.
SCV filed suit expecting it would not be successful, he said. “Our legal action has immediately met with an offer from them to settle.”
Public sentiment over the decision was peppered with outrage. Some predicted the confrontations between the statue’s supporters and detractors would resume wherever the new location would be, and many were angry over the UNC System funding the relocation.
As the Alumni Review reported in 1913 when the statue was erected, the United Daughters of the Confederacy intended the monument to be “in memory of all University students, living and dead, who served in the Confederacy.”
The statue was commissioned by the Daughters of the Confederacy and finished in 1913. It was erected, as the Alumni Review reported at the time, “in memory of all University students, living and dead, who served in the Confederacy.”
The monument’s presence made some people and groups unhappy at intervals since the 1950s. The outcry against its continued presence grew 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.
Some students said they were insulted by its presence; they called it a symbol of the Confederacy’s loyalty to the institution of slavery. Some added that they didn’t feel safe when counterprotesters came to the campus.
Others saw Silent Sam as a tribute to those who fought for their homeland in the Civil War, perhaps without regard to the slavery issue. Many said that removing the statue would be detrimental to the understanding of history.
The hottest period of controversy over the statue began in summer 2015, after the trustees agreed to change the name of a building that honored a leader of the Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction. The renaming of Saunders Hall to Carolina Hall came with a 16-year moratorium on other renamings on a campus with a number of buildings named for people who were involved with white supremacy.
After protesters knocked down the statue on the eve of the first day of classes in August 2018, UNC’s trustees and administrators worked for months on a viable new location for it. They agreed in December 2018 to a proposal to move the monument to what would have been a new building in the former Odum Village on the southern edge of the campus; it was estimated to cost $5.3 million to build, $800,000 a year to maintain and would house a center for exhibits and education on the University’s history. Then-Chancellor Carol L. Folt and several trustees made clear that their preference would be to not have the controversial statue on the campus, but they said they were convinced that would be a violation of the 2015 law.
The BOG rejected the University’s proposal, citing safety and the estimated cost. They directed UNC’s trustees, the chancellor and top administrative staff to work with a BOG task force to find another solution by March 15. Delays persisted, and the BOG omitted the issue for discussion at its fall 2019 meetings.
Folt ordered the statue’s base and commemorative plaques removed simultaneously with her resignation in January 2019.
On the campus, opposition to keeping Silent Sam had become overwhelming. Hundreds of faculty and students signed letters; athletes and alumni who play or had played in the National Basketball Association registered protests; the Odum Institute — named, as is Odum Village, for the social scientist and vocal anti-racism activist Howard Odum — said the statue was an affront to his legacy.
Library administrators pleaded that the statue not be placed in any University library; few practical locations were left. Fifty-four African American 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.”
Rallies at UNC grew angrier about the time of the building name change. But protests featuring anti-Silent Sam protesters and supporters of Confederate groups boiled over — sometimes becoming violent — after the statue was pulled down. Police were criticized for the handling of a September 2018 rally at the site of the monument and a December 2018 street march held a few weeks before the statue’s base was ordered removed.
The campus continued to attract unwanted outside attention. In March, members of an outside group with ties to the pro-Confederate counterprotests were caught carrying guns on the campus. Later that month, two people were apprehended in the act of defacing a monument to the people of color who built the original campus.
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. In mid-month, the Board of Governors rejected that proposal and set up a five-member task force of its members to work with trustees, the chancellor and UNC’s top administrative staff to come up with another plan for Silent Sam by March 15. 2019 March: BOG extends the deadline to May. April: BOG Chair Harry Smith tells a news conference he thinks restoring Silent Sam to its original site is “not the right path,” a reversal of Smith’s previous stance. May: Indefinite delay announced for the disposition decision. November: The statue is given to the Sons of Confederate Veterans in an agreement approved by the Board of Governors.
• Comprehensive coverage of Silent Sam from the Carolina Alumni Review archives.