‘Not some malicious act’
Following the renaming of Saunders Hall to Carolina Hall, attention has been redirected back to Silent Sam — by modifying the statue through spray-painting and blindfolding.
“Blindfolding Silent Sam is not some malicious act to just be rude and to make people feel uncomfortable. It’s done to provide a contrast to your daily life,” said junior Charity Lackey, a student activist on campus. “When you have a point that needs to be put across, and it’s not being taken seriously, sometimes you need a visual.”
Hall agreed the blindfolding is an effective display.
“I think that it was a very timely, as well as appropriate, form of expression and form of art that was executed,” Hall said. “I wish it was more public.”
The acts against Silent Sam led to the installation of cameras around the monument by the Department of Public Safety in July.
“That’s another way, I guess, systems are put in place to silence people, to promote terror or invoke fear in people that might want to protest,” Hall said. “It’s a very militarized way to police people and bodies on the campus because there is going to be that fear that I can be identified, and there are consequences that can be fabricated because of being on camera even in the vicinity of the statue.”
‘It needs to go’
UNC history professor Harry Watson said monuments are put up to honor a person or cause, to ensure people don’t forget about it. But he also said the reasons for honoring a person can be re-evaluated in hindsight more aptly than a group of people, as with Silent Sam.
“When you take all the students who fought in the Civil War on the side of Confederacy, some of them may have been heroes and some of them may have been scoundrels,” Watson said. “Honoring a group of people is a far more nebulous thing, and you have the problem of whether everybody in the group deserves the honor.”
Even between Saunders Hall — known by some as Hurston Hall — and Silent Sam, there is a difference of approach by activists and UNC administration.
“Hurston Hall needed a more rigorous form of protest because this had been an issue for a decade, and no one was listening,” Lackey said.
Hall said what students are ultimately asking for with Silent Sam differs from their intentions with Saunders Hall. While some are asking for contextualization, Hall wants it completely removed.
“With Silent Sam, there is no second portion of trying to rename it,” Hall said. “It needs to go.”
Watson said contextualization is “double talk, quite literally.”
“Honestly, I’d rather take the statue down than do that,” Watson said. “To me, it is wishy-washy to keep it up and then say we don’t mean it.”
After a period of unsuccessful protesting, the Real Silent Sam Coalition had to strategize its goals for protesting on campus to appeal to the Board of Trustees, which would be the deciding body for altering monuments.
“When we first met with the Real Silent Sam Coalition, this was almost two years ago, they were not necessarily focused on Saunders Hall; they were trying to attack on a lot of different fronts,” Gardner said. “It was a really scattered shot approach.”
Gardner said after he spoke with some of the members of the coalition, they realized they needed to focus on one project for efficiency’s sake.
“They concluded that Saunders was probably the most vulnerable and easiest target,” Gardner said.
Once Saunders Hall was the identified cause, the group still needed to put more research behind its reasons for changing the name, Gardner said.
“There were probably three or four trustees who were convinced the name should come down. The other trustees weren’t really opposed to it per se, they just said we need to see some evidence because all we really have is a lot of conjecture about who this man was,” Gardner said. “We needed a smoking gun, and, frankly, the students didn’t have that.”
Gardner said when it was clear that among the reasons for Saunders being honored, his affiliation with the Ku Klux Klan was on the top of the list — there was an absence of doubt for the trustees.
“That kind of tipped it over for everyone on the board — you can’t have a terrorist and you can’t have a criminal being honored by the University,” Gardner said.
For student activists, perseverance and dedication have to be ingrained in them, says both Lackey and Hall.
“There has to be a sense of urgency and persistence and resilience because a lot of the time you’re going to be yelling and yelling and no one hears you,” Lackey said.
And since there is no “smoking gun” for the Silent Sam monument, activists are looking for ways to relay the same message they did with Saunders without the clear connection to one individual memorialized by UNC.
“You can protest in many different ways. Protesting doesn’t always have to be standing in front of a building,” Lackey said. “This year, my protesting looks a lot different than it did last year because I’m in leadership positions where I can affect change.”