The unsung founders deserve better
With the current conversation around Silent Sam and its removal, I thought I’d write about the monument that stands in juxtaposition to Sam — the Unsung Founders Memorial.
A few weeks ago as I was walking through the upper quad, I saw a woman and her two kids having lunch on the monument. I immediately got angry but calmed myself as I approached her. I asked her if she knew what she was sitting on and she stated she did, and was reading the dedication imprinted on the “table,” but was only trying to have lunch with her kids. Her intent was never to harm or offend anybody but simply to have a nice place to sit.
But intent is not effect. The woman eventually moved after her son told her they could go sit at the bench in front of Alumni Hall instead, as if that option wasn’t available as soon as she realized what she was sitting on.
I share this short story because the infuriating and degrading sight of people sitting on the Unsung Founders Memorial was one commonly experienced by other Black students until it was adorned with banquets of flowers.
The Unsung Founders Memorial stands in the shadow just feet behind Silent Sam. Time and time again this monument has been disrespected as a casual picnic table or reading desk. While I’ve spent some energy being angry at the individuals that choose to disrespect the monument, it’s hard to ignore the design of the monument itself as disrespectful. Monuments are meant to commemorate and uplift people or a point in history, yet the Unsung Founders Memorial was built to uplift people’s lunch and body weight?
Ironically, an act meant to stop people from further disrespecting the Unsung Founders has achieved what the design of the monument failed to do: draw passersby to learn more about who built the University. There must be something fundamentally wrong if the memorial meant to commemorate appeals to the masses as nothing more than another exterior comfort. Compare this with the tall and proud commemoration to Confederate soldiers.
It is also worth noting that there’s only one demographic of people I’ve actually encountered sitting on the Unsung Founders Memorial, and they usually always lack a concentration of melanin.
When students of color say white supremacy is deeply embedded in our institution, it's materialized in the very fact that a monument meant to honor the enslaved people who helped build the University is eclipsed by a statue for the men who fought in support of the institution of slavery.
The Board of Trustees couldn’t stand to change a building's namesake from a KKK grand dragon to a black woman — so they placed a 16-year ban on all future name changes.
It’s not enough to have an online exhibit on this University’s past, it’s time for UNC to act like its slaveholding legacy didn’t just disappear without affecting on current students of color.
Silence Sam. Listen to students of color. Uplift the unsung founders.
Thanks for reading.
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