Real Silent Sam movement holds protest focused on statue’s history
Despite his name, Silent Sam’s history sparks heavy-handed conversation every few years, and this year is no exception.
The statue in McCorkle Place has again sparked community-wide debate about the implications of having a monument to the Confederacy so prominently placed on campus.
But despite outrage from some, the monument has never been seriously threatened, at least during the past few decades.
Bruce Carney, executive vice chancellor and provost, said he has heard of no formal petition to remove the statue in his 31 years at the University.
On Sept. 1, a group called the Real Silent Sam movement, composed of concerned community members and students, held a protest to attract attention to the statue’s history.
Senior Will McInerney, a member of the movement, said the group wants to start a discussion about monuments with racist backgrounds.
“The naming of buildings and erection of monuments with complex and potentially racist undertones is an issue that warrants discussion and creative solutions,” McInerney said.
Silent Sam was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1913 as a monument honoring University students and faculty who served in the Confederate army.
Julian Carr, a Confederate veteran who gave the dedication speech in 1913, not only thanked Confederates for their sacrifice, but also praised the soldiers for helping preserve “the Anglo-Saxon race.”
Harry Watson, director of the Center for the Study of the American South, said Silent Sam was erected to celebrate the triumph of Jim Crow laws in North Carolina, passed at the end of the 19th century.
“Many proclaimed the white race had reclaimed the South and kicked the black men out of politics, so they celebrated by putting up monuments of Confederate soldiers in public places,” Watson said.
He said the most recent protest of the statue’s white supremacist history he could remember started after former UNC faculty member Gerald Horne sent a letter to The Daily Tar Heel a few years ago.
Watson said the letter sparked reactions from students and people across the state. Comments eventually died down, but the controversy has continued.
The Real Silent Sam movement is the most recent to join the debate, Watson said.
While the group is not advocating for the removal of the statue, it is in favor of erecting a plaque that calls attention to its white supremacist history.
“I think a more open and constructive solution would involve relabeling the monument to provide a more accurate historical context,” McInerney said.
University officials said they support the students’ right to protest the statue.
“I do fully support robust and earnest dialogue about this and similar issues, and I fully support student’s rights to raise this issue before the university community,” said Winston Crisp, vice chancellor for student affairs.
About 10 years ago, University officials heard from a senior class that wanted to commemorate another aspect of UNC’s history.
The Unsung Founders Memorial — the stone table situated less than 100 yards away from Silent Sam — was erected in 2005 by the graduating class of 2002 in memory of enslaved African-Americans who helped to build the University.
David Owens, chairman of UNC’s building and grounds committee, said careful considerations were made about the placement of the Unsung Founders monument.
“Silent Sam was the second monument to be placed inside the sidewalks at McCorkle Place,” Owens said, adding that the first was the burial site for Joseph Caldwell, the University’s first president, who was also a slaveowner.
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