Vandals Deface Silent Sam

Memorials on the grounds of the oldest part of UNC’s campus are rare — McCorkle Place is home to:

  • A monument to Joseph Caldwell, UNC’s first president;
  • A statue of a Confederate soldier — long known as Silent Sam — that was dedicated in 1913 to commemorate University people who died in Civil War service; and
  • The most recent, dedicated in 2005, the Unsung Founders Memorial to slaves and free workers who helped build the campus.
Silent Sam on July 6, 2015. (Photo by Jason D. Smith '94)

Silent Sam on July 6, 2015. (Photo by Jason D. Smith ’94)

On July 5, vandals defaced the monument to Confederate soldiers. The Daily Tar Heel published a photo online showing the words “KKK” and “murderer” spray painted on the monument.

The University issued a statement following the incident:

“We understand that the issue of race and place is both emotional and, for many, painful,” said Rick White ’71, associate vice chancellor of communications and public affairs. “Carolina is working hard to ensure we have a thoughtful, respectful and inclusive dialogue on the issue. The extensive discussions with the Carolina community this past year by the Board of Trustees and University leadership and the work we will be doing to contextualize the history of our campus is a big part of advancing those conversations. We welcome all points of view, but damaging or defacing statues is not the way to go about it.”

White’s comments were in reference to the 10-3 vote by the UNC Board of Trustees in May to rename Saunders Hall, addressing long-standing concerns of students, faculty and staff members who wanted a place where they learn and work to not carry the name of the reputed former Ku Klux Klan leader, a member of UNC’s class of 1854. The building has been renamed Carolina Hall. The split vote reflected divisions about how best to address UNC’s racial history.

“We’re not changing history,” said Alston Gardner ’77, trustees vice chair and chair of their University Affairs Committee. “We’re shining a bright light on it.”

That bright light is intended to be cast by historical markers for what has been Saunders Hall and for McCorkle Place, which is home to the memorial honoring Confederate soldiers. The markers are envisioned to provide a complete history of each place.

Silent Sam, installed in 1913, has long been controversial. The Real Silent Sam Coalition, which describes itself as an “alliance organization of students, faculty, staff and community members,” had been leading the charge for changing the name of Saunders Hall.

By Sunday afternoon, the base of the monument had been draped in white plastic. Two days later, a company hired to clean the statue began work and completed it within a day. The base is made of sandstone, and the cleaning company applied a sealer that is intended to make any future graffiti easier to remove.

GAA records show that 287 alumni died fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War.


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