The Community Issue: Students and alumni

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Our front page of the Sept. 4 print edition of The Daily Tar Heel, in which we published all of the letters we received regarding Silent Sam.

For our Labor Day edition and in light of recent events on campus concerning Silent Sam, we've dedicated most of our print edition for Sept. 4 to publishing the many letters we've received concerning the Confederate monument. 

Read our Opinion Editor and Editor-in-Chief's columns for the issue here and here. Letters from students and alumni are below (click here for letters from professors and community members):

Students:

Why Putting Sam in the Graveyard is Not a Solution

TO THE EDITOR:  8/30

As the Silent Sam Sit-In is heading into its second week, the administration has failed to address their issues with transparency, and instead continue to trifle with student safety on campus. Some solutions have been offered up in promise to rectify the wrongs of the statue and its dedication. The most prominent solution is moving the statue to the graveyard on South Road. This is a trash solution for a trash statue. There are approximately 475 unmarked graves on the west side of the graveyard, where many of the slaves who built the university are buried. This site has been disrespected in the past, used as parking for football games, and has been the location for many parties. Housing Silent Sam in a graveyard honoring the lives of slaves and others dedicated to this university is an insult. Honoring in the aforementioned sentence is also too strong of a word to use, since the University did not even acknowledge the unmarked graves until recently.. Putting Sam in the very graveyard with graves of slaves is an affront to their lives and their service. Sam doesn’t represent them, didn’t fight for them, and it’s truly a question of why Chancellor Folt and the University administration are so bent on fighting for Sam, and protecting a statue promoting white supremacy.

Insaaf Mohamed

Senior

Political Science

Removing Silent Sam is a sign of welcome

TO THE EDITOR: 8/30

Brian Meares' notion that Silent Sam promotes a space for "free and open discussion" is a baffling interpretation of this University's hazardous idealism on "safe spaces." Such spaces do not and cannot exists for black and brown students as long as a prominent, overt symbol of white supremacy beams down on them daily.

To remove Silent Sam is not an effort to rewrite history. Removing Silent Sam will never undo centuries of deathly oppression onto black and brown bodies. Removing this iconography should be the purposeful duty of Carolina to say finally, without any hesitation, that students, staff, and faculty who look like me are welcomed at this place.

As long as Silent Sam points his musket northward, the ideals, aims, and goals of the Confederacy will forever shroud this University in a negative light. It will forever leave lingering the nasty taste of oppression on the tongues of black and brown students. Silent Sam will forever silence our voices in a haze of never-ending confusion. If this is Carolina's mission, then job well done!

Don Holmes

Doctoral Student

English and Comparative Literature

Folt is still at fault

TO THE EDITOR: 8/29

The Chancellor is not a glorified development officer or ceremonial figurehead. She leads a major university faced with a very specific set of problems. Leading a community is not a position of glory and stature, it is a position of humility and service.

While UNC might be an enormous bureaucracy with competing interests from stakeholders for Chancellor Folt to balance, she can still speak. And she has repeatedly advocated the kind of free speech absolutism which allows white supremacist violence to go unchecked. She has refused to publicly support the removal of Silent Sam.

This omission is deafening. It tells many of us that we are not a valid part of the community the Chancellor serves, but white supremacists are. Inaction after Governor Cooper approved the removal of Silent Sam to protect public safety signals that she does not believe that violence directed at marginalized people threatens public safety.

The myth of white supremacy is an incitement to violence against the most vulnerable members of this community and Silent Sam is the lightning rod for that violence on UNC's campus. They will continue to come. They will continue to do violence.

It may not all be Folt's fault. But fault is not the reason that people are angry: inaction is. Given the continued mishandling of this situation, the UNC community should call for the Chancellor's resignation. Then perhaps we can find a Chancellor who will serve this community by putting its safety and well-being before PR concerns.

John Martin

PhD Student

Information and library science

Chapel Hill could become Charlottesville

TO THE EDITOR: 8/23

The ancient Romans had a doctrine: salus populi suprema lex esto (roughly, “let the safety of the people be the highest law”). Yesterday, UNC declined to remove the racist Silent Sam statue, claiming it could not use the logic of public safety as an excuse. I cannot imagine a worthier reason.

Chapel Hill could easily be the next Charlottesville. Neo-Nazis use Confederate monuments as rallying points, and we have already seen white supremacists gather in front of Silent Sam. Unfortunately, we know Nazi sympathizers exist on campus. Last year, I wrote to this paper after seeing someone use the survey board in the Undergrad Library to advertise a neo-Nazi website. The website, which is so abhorrent that the Daily Tar Heel forbids publication of its name, was one of the main organizers behind the “Unite the Right” rally that led to three deaths in Charlottesville.

My greatest fear is that in being overly cautious about the letter of the law, UNC’s administration will cost someone their life. Students of color – who have been speaking out against this statue for years – are at greatest risk of violence from white supremacist groups.

Please, remove Silent Sam. Remove it tonight. Remove it and bear whatever legal consequences may come. The cost could not be greater than the potential loss of life we face as long as Sam continues to cast its shadow over the gateway to our campus.

Sometimes, doing the right thing comes with consequences. Do it anyway.

Lindsay Ayling

Graduate student

History

Folt’s letter was too clinical

TO THE EDITOR: 8/16

When I opened Chancellor Folt’s email, I was expecting an outpouring of sympathy for the events that happened in Charlottesville this weekend. While that did happen, I was also invited to read a nuanced legal explanation that explains in great detail that hate speech is, in fact, legal.

I want to begin with a disclaimer and it is that I believe strongly in the right to free speech, including hate speech.

Now, I want to say how inappropriate it is to choose this moment to remind us of that, days after a white supremacist killed Heather Heyer. A white supremacist murdered a woman this weekend and the university's response is to remind us that his opinions are legal and protected, and have a place on this campus if that becomes the case. While that may be the truth, the reminder is distasteful, inappropriate, and poorly timed. 

Imagine a husband kills his cheating wife, and instead of reading about the tragedy of her death, you read about why cheating is wrong. Objectively, yes, cheating is bad – but is now really the time to educate us on all the reasons why?

The page that Chancellor Folt linked us to is titled, “Message About First Amendment Protections, Outside Speakers, Confederate Monument.” It cites The Free Speech Act, passed by the North Carolina Legislature at the end of June 2017.

The Free Speech Act requires the University to implement a range of disciplinary actions for students and employees who substantially interfere with another person’s protected free speech rights. This includes protests that limit the ability of others to hear a speaker.

You cannot ask us not to gather. You cannot ask us not to speak up, together – because we truly are strongest together. Anyone has the right to spew hate, but if that person is outnumbered by many, we have the right to speak up. This bill, and the university obliging the law, asks us to literally stand by in silence so that the Carolina community can listen respectfully to opinions that do not respect our existence as human beings.

If five thousand of us gather and boo Milo off the stage, and you can’t hear him – sorry. That’s our constitutional right to assembly, our right to free speech, our majority rule.

Shaming someone is legal. Alienating someone is legal. We have no responsibility to make neo-Nazis feel comfortable and welcome on this campus. We are allowed to hate them, and we are allowed to express that we do, as I’ve been so thoroughly reminded today.

Unjust laws won’t silence us, because as much as hateful people have the right to their words, their monuments, and their gatherings, so do we. We will gather to speak out against hate and injustice.

Vivane Mao

Class of 2019

The police only protect Silent Sam

TO THE EDITOR: 8/23

I want to make a something absolutely clear; the only violent participants in Tuesday night’s protest were the police, under orders from the state, attempting to fulfill their mission to “protect and serve.” Only tonight, they didn’t seem interested in protecting and serving the groups most in need of it.

The police were not protecting Muslims. This failure, less than three years after three Muslim students were shot and killed by a home invader over a “parking dispute.”

The police were not protecting black men. This, while in an undergraduate class of 18,000, fewer than 700 are African American men. A product of educational and social systems which are more interested in detaining and imprisoning men of color than protecting and serving them.

The police were not protecting trans students. This, while our President insists on institutionalizing the very hate that continues to put their lives at risk.

In fact, rather than protecting these groups, the police detained, harassed, assaulted, shoved, and attacked them.

So who were the police protecting?

Silent Sam.

A statue built with money raised with help from former UNC president Francis Venable and NC taxpayers.

A statue dedicated by former UNC trustee Julian Carr who recalled "horse-whipp[ing] a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds" for insulting a white woman on Franklin Street.

A statue whose very existence is in explicit memorial to the violence that the state has perpetrated against communities of color for over a century.

First-years, welcome to UNC.

Andrew Brennan

Political Science, 2019

Racism alive and well in the UNC of today

TO THE EDITOR: 8/21

With the nation now focused on calls for the removal of confederate monuments including Silent Sam, it is critical for us to consider more pervasive forms of racism affecting our country and, more specifically, affecting our campus. Although we tout ourselves as a liberal bastion, potentially free of racial bias and discrimination, we are not. Racism is present here, including in UNC’s School of Social Work.

For the fifth year in a row, UNC’s School of Social Work Doctoral Program has not admitted a Black student. How do I know? I am one of two Black students remaining in the program. Yes, two. And we are both doctoral candidates who will graduate this academic year. In addition to a lack of representation among the doctoral student body, racism by omission is also evident among doctoral faculty and course curricula.

First, our program lacks a recruitment strategy to attract racially and culturally diverse students, although our MSW program has one. Second, we only have two faculty members who teach in the doctoral program; however, only one taught in the program before this upcoming semester. Third, although we are guided by a code of ethics that promotes social justice, our doctoral program does not have a social justice component within its course curricula. Our understanding of race is simply limited to how to code racial groups for quantitative data analysis.

Despite trying to work with administration to change these trends, nothing has changed. This fight now needs to be made public.

Charity Watkins

Doctoral Candidate, Social Work

Alumni:

Sam needs context or removal

TO THE EDITOR:

Silent Sam has been debated in The Daily Tar Heel since a plurality of voices first arose in public discourse in the south during the Civil Rights movement. UNC administrators should stop hiding behind excuses and act.

I have heard rationales about:

A) history and heritage, but why celebrate a history mythologized to hide its most egregious aspect: the war was fought to justify the enslavement of 4 million human beings because of their color?

B) State´s rights, but for what? The answer is slavery. Articles of secession of Mississippi and South Carolina state so quite clearly.

C) An 'object of remembrance' is disingenuous when you remember the intent to glorify a war fought to enslave African Americans.

As a UNC alum and a white guy from the south whose ancestors fought for the Confederacy, I’d suggest:

1) Take Silent Sam down as a disgraceful reminder of when Lost Cause myths coincided with the rise of Jim Crow laws, the KKK and lynchings; or

2) Contextualize him with the real history of our communities in a monument overshadowing him with the horrors of slavery, racism and white terrorism built on a process of inclusive dialogue by the UNC community.

In my professional life, I have worked with people put in concentration camps, women raped and young men recruited into fighting for the wrong ideas for the same principles of racial or ethnic superiority that underlie this monument. Take Silent Sam down now, or build a monument around him which tells the whole story.

Milburn Line

Class of ’86

Move the statues to those who want them

TO THE EDITOR: 8/17

The General Assembly and Governor Pat McCrory prohibited the removal of Confederate monuments by law in 2015. In light of recent events, and to ensure that those who favor Confederate monuments can keep seeing them, I have a modest proposal.

I propose installing a replica of the fallen Durham courthouse statue on McCrory’s lawn, or the nearest public sidewalk. As a protector of these monuments, I am sure he will not mind. If he declines, I’m sure the NC legislators who voted for the bill will accept their own copies.

UNC’s trustees may also wish to have William L. Saunders on their lawns, perhaps in full Klan regalia, for their defense of our institution against “Hurston Hall.”

Should they object, they will simply have to learn to embrace our history, as the emblems cannot be removed. Alternatively, they might simply overturn the ban.

But why stop there? Our legislators should be reminded of the Lost Cause through statues in the restrooms at the General Assembly. Our General Assembly has decided to make restrooms so safe through HB2 that rabble-rousers would not dare transgress in that safe space. The statues would be protected twice over.

Since our state has already seen fit to erect Confederate monuments in places other than graves, museums, and battlefields, this memorabilia has just as much place in the NCGA’s hallowed halls and stalls as they do in front of courthouses or on the UNC campus.

Let's make sure our history is not erased.

Andy Plante-Kropp

Class of ’12

Taking down Silent Sam maintains UNC’s legacy

TO THE EDITOR: 8/23

The very purpose of the Confederacy was to preserve the institution of slavery. And the purpose of Confederate remembrance is to embrace those principles of white supremacy. Silent Sam and other statues were erected in attempt to revise history. Keeping them up does not help us remember our past, but instead creates false memory in which racism didn't exist.

This fake history prevents us from being able to understand our present, in which racism is clearly alive and well. Putting the statues up was an effort to erase history. Taking them down moves us one step closer to better understanding our past and hopefully making a better future.

I would like to remind Chancellor Folt that UNC students have been on the vanguard of social changes for many decades, and our state is the better for it. Even students that never picked up a sign or chanted a slogan benefitted from experiencing this place of learning and possibility. The entire state benefits from the optimism, creativity, and change that emanates from UNC year after year.

This legacy of activism and social change is part of what makes UNC and North Carolina great. Taking Silent Sam down will be another step in forging our better future together.

Ruby Sinreich

Class of ’93

Balance Silent Sam with context

TO THE EDITOR: 8/19

Here is a solution to the "Silent Sam" problem:

Have a statue of one of the US Black Troops from North Carolina, holding his rifle, facing south, in front of Silent Sam.

This way, Silent Sam would not need to be removed or even moved. He would simply be balanced by a another memorial of history.

Blacks served in the Union Army as "Colored Troops", as they were called.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Colored_Troops

There were even Union Colored Troop regiments form North Carolina.

http://www.ncgenweb.us/ncusct/usct.htm

The above site has a picture of Sgt. Frank Roberts of the NC Colored Volunteers. He could be a model for the statue of the Union soldier.

This is appropriate since the model for Silent Sam was a northerner.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_Sam

Mike Conrad

Class of ’74

Build the future, don’t destroy the past

TO THE EDITOR: 8/23

When I was a student at UNC, in the early ’70s, the only concern we had about Silent Sam was whether or not his gun would go off. The story was that if a virgin walked by, his gun would go off. But then we had dealt with desegregation in our schools, Vietnam, and whether or not we would be bombed by Russia.

I am sorry that today's students do not respect the past and learn from it more. The Civil War in our country was devastating — to both sides. It left families torn apart, people without homes, land, work or even food.

Was it right? Was it wrong? I don't have the answer to that; but it is history. Not all history is pretty and sweet. To tear down statutes, change the names of buildings or take chapters out of history books, you are saying that none of that mattered. But it did. We should be learning from it — not destroying it. The things students do today will be the history of tomorrow. How do you want to be remembered? How would you feel if your grandchildren want to tear down and change what you are trying to build?

To destroy the remnants of our history, to tear down the reminders of what people (good or bad) fought for, is like killing those people all over again and repeating the mistakes they made. Leave the past where it is and work to build the future, not tear it down.

Teresa McLemore

Class of ’76

Not all Confederates fought for slavery

TO THE EDITOR: 8/23

I am writing to urge that Silent Sam remain where it is and as it is.

I am a proud Carolina alum, former US Ambassador with 30 years of overseas service in 11 countries, including Iraq, the Haiti earthquake and, if it makes any difference to prove in no way am I motivated by "racism", 10 years living and working on economic development in Africa.

It is too easy and facile to equate Confederate monuments per se with racism. I know my own North Carolina family's history with the Civil War. They/we owned no slaves and were certainly not fighting for slavery during that terrible conflict. They were fighting mostly because the other side "was down here.”

When I was a young kid in Winston-Salem, I remember listening to my great grandfather speaking about the terrible hardships of growing up in Reconstruction-period North Carolina. The point is that it is too easy and inaccurate to automatically equate symbols of our history — for better or worse — with simply nefarious and negative values.

I think "Silent Sam" should be seen as representative of the many UNC students of the day who fought and died according to the values and belief that they saw — no matter how we judge them today — as right, fitting and even noble.

Please consider taking the long and reflective view and not act in a spasm of shortsighted emotion.

Lewis Lucke

Class of ’73

Sam should be removed, from a veteran of sit-ins

TO THE EDITOR: 8/22

I am a veteran of the sit-ins for civil rights here in Chapel Hill during the 1963-64 academic year. I was arrested on six counts of trespassing and resisting arrest and spent almost a month in the Chapel Hill jail at the corner of Columbia and Rosemary Streets.

I am also a native North Carolinian and thus, a native Southerner. As Southerners, my wife and I once walked the heartbreaking path of Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg, right up to the split rail fence where so many young men from North Carolina died about a hundred years before our sit-ins.

The combination of these two identities makes the issue of Silent Sam an excruciating one for me.

For some time, my preference would have been to leave the statue in place but to pair it with an equally large and impressive monument to the students of Lincoln High School with whom I sat in. The Lincoln students were the bravest and most inspiring people I ever met, and it was an honor to be in jail with them.

But now I believe both that Sam should be removed in a dignified way to some other location on campus, and that the monument to the young civil rights activists should also be erected. Monuments are not merely historical markers but also honor our central values, which should include most our shared value and dignity as Tar Heels and as Americans.

Charles L. Thompson

Class of ’65

Alum questions whether the country learns from its history

TO THE EDITOR: 8/27

Some are railing against the cost of guarding “Silent Sam” on the campus of UNC. It is a pittance compared with the millions of dollars spent guarding against punitive action by the NCAA in the matter of the athletic scandal at Carolina. Isn’t it worth that small amount to preserve peace and prevent possible wanton destruction of the statue?

When many look at the statue they see a symbol of the Confederacy that enslaved black people for generations. I do not see a general with epaulettes riding a beautiful horse; rather I see an ordinary soldier with an empty ammunition pouch.  He may be thinking of returning to an impoverished family and country and of his fellow soldiers who died in the war.

“Silent Sam” makes one think of the stupidity of war and that nobody comes out of a war without injuries to the soul or of the devastation wrought.

He reminds me that we as a nation never learn from history but keep repeating it over and over.

Eunice Brock

Class of '67

PhD references historical speech

TO THE EDITOR: 8/25

It seems protesters calling for the removal of Silent Sam and other Confederate memorials have ignited a movement to remove memorials to anyone who has done or said something offensive. For example, a candidate for mayor of New York City has called for closure of Ulysses S. Grant’s tomb because she said he was anti-Semitic. By logical extension, if racist statements made by someone at the dedication of a memorial to students of UNC who died in battle as Confederate soldiers justifies its removal, surely the following statement made by this famous public figure justifies removal of monuments to him: “I am not, nor have ever been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.” That was Abraham Lincoln, in an 1858 speech in Illinois.

David Robinette

Class of '91

Confederate descendant condemns Silent Sam

TO THE EDITOR: 8/24

I am related to one of the 300+ Confederate Carolina alumni in whose honor Silent Sam was supposedly erected, as well as members of the Daughters of the Confederacy, the same group that funded its installation in 1913.

Silent Sam must go.

My family has a long history at UNC and North Carolina and a deep affection for both. It frustrates me when people with no real connection to Carolina insist that a monument that has upset so many people for so long must remain in place in the name of my ancestors. Every living descendant I know (most are also UNC alumni) agrees that they do not want this monument to remain in its current location if it causes any members of our community to feel hurt or disrespected.

I can’t understand how anyone can say that their tepid nostalgic affection for a monument to strangers who died over 150 years ago is more important than the fact that this monument causes genuine pain to any of our fellow living humans today.

Keeping this monument in its current location of highest honor on campus sends the message that the dead are more important than the living and that pride is more important than kindness.

The future of this state and our nation will be in the hands of the UNC students who set foot on this campus every fall. How can we ask them to love Carolina when this statue sends the message that Carolina doesn’t love them?

Rachell Underhill

Class of '01

Alum recalls Julian Carr’s dedication address

TO THE EDITOR: 8/24

Anyone who believes we should “respect history” should be willing to have this history from the dedication address posted at Silent Sam.

Unveiling of Confederate Monument at the University of North Carolina

June 2, 1913

The dedication address by Julian S. Carr is a tribute to the “Christian” “Anglo-Saxon race” and contains the following passage:

“I trust I may be pardoned for one allusion, howbeit it is rather personal. One hundred yards from where we stand, less than ninety days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady, and then rushed for protection to these University buildings where was stationed a garrison of 100 Federal soldiers. I performed the pleasing duty in the immediate presence of the entire garrison, and for thirty nights afterwards slept with a double-barrel shotgun under my head.”

Walter Dellinger

Class of '63

Silent Sam is essential for remembrance, discourse

TO THE EDITOR: 8/23

I, like many alumni, oppose the removal of the statue of Silent Sam from the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

It was erected and stands in memorial — not to the Confederacy, nor its leaders or ideology, but to remember the young sons of Carolina who bravely heeded the call when their native state asked for their service.

As a fixture on campus, it serves to promote free and open discourse of the history of the American South, racism and social inequality — this free and open discourse being central to the mission of our great University.

Brian Meares

Class of ‘03

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