“One hundred yards from where we stand, less than 90 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,” Julius Carr said when he delivered the dedication speech on the steps of Silent Sam in 1913.
Every day, hundreds of our fellow Tar Heels of color walk past Silent Sam, a statue dedicated to those who declared war against the U.S. in defense of slavery. The debate on whether to remove this stain from our campus is more heated now than ever. Yet even with so much attention on the statue, there are still many myths that surround its legend. Let’s explore some of them.
Perhaps the most common defense of Sam is an inanimate object cannot be racist. Whether individuals want to admit it or not, the Civil War began over a state’s right to decide whether or not another human could be owned solely based on their skin color. Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy, said “subordination is [African-Americans’] place” as ordained by God.
Once the war was lost and Reconstruction ended, the South quickly began memorializing its efforts and creating the myth of the Old South. At the height of Jim Crow in the early 20th century, hundreds of Confederate statues were erected. The purpose of these statues was clear: to celebrate the lost “glory” of Dixie and the cause Southerners had fought for during the war.
There is also concern that removing the statue would erase history, but I don’t think anyone will forget the Civil War happened anytime soon. The history of our nation, good and bad, has been thoroughly documented. It is necessary to remember our past, so we can avoid the mistakes of those who came before us. To this end, view relics of our history in museums, which is exactly where Silent Sam belongs.