Two nights ago, after having stood for over 105 years, Silent Sam was pulled down by demonstrators. A few hours later, Chancellor Carol Folt issued a statement on the protest, criticizing the act as “unlawful and dangerous.” Those words are some of the strongest she’s ever shared on the subject of UNC’s longstanding Confederate statue. In her five years as chancellor of the University, Folt has done her best to stay away from the political.
Folt’s apolitical nature has often benefited the school, helping steady the always precarious relationship between the liberal UNC and the conservative North Carolina General Assembly. But on the issue of Silent Sam, her reticence to take a stand has done more harm than good. It has frustrated many in the student body, who hoped our chancellor would help lead the campus conversation surrounding Silent Sam.
What to think of the actions of the protest is a complicated affair. Should we celebrate the de-pedestaling, though illegal? Was this a true victory against racism or is it merely a display of idealism that may hurt the cause in the long run? These are questions the editorial board has struggled with, and in light of such a big occasion in the life of the campus, we had hoped for more from our chancellor. Silent Sam is a divisive figure, and in order for constructive conversation to take place the University needs strong leadership. We hope Folt will do more in the coming days.
It is also important for us to consider that ultimately, the North Carolina General Assembly and, to an extent, the administration still have the power to re-erect the statue. There is no time to rest on laurels. True progress comes not from breaking the law, but from revising it. Although Monday night may have been the catalyst for change, there is a long journey ahead. Lasting advances take time and work.
Sam may not be gone forever, and what it represented is certainly not. It’s notable this stain on campus that symbolized white supremacy is gone for the time being, but the injustices students of color face on this campus will not disappear overnight. The administration and local government still need to be scrutinized and held accountable.