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The Daily Tar Heel

Viewpoint: Slavery is what the Confederacy stood for

THE ISSUE: The upcoming sesquicentennial of the Civil War has sparked discussion around campus and the state about the proper treatment of North Carolina’s Confederate past. Is it a valid part of the state’s heritage, or is it something to be shamed or forgotten? What should happen to Silent Sam? Today, members of the editorial board weigh in on the war’s proper place in the discourse.

An old adage teaches us that we are all entitled to our own opinions, but we are not entitled to our own facts.

As the 150th anniversary of the Civil War quickly approaches, it is important to pause and remember what the Confederacy stood for.

When we recall the Civil War, we do well to remind ourselves that it was fought over slavery. For anyone who thinks otherwise, I can think of a few courses taught at this University you should enroll in. Every time I hear someone say it was fought over “states’ rights,” I always roll my eyes. Check any one of the secession documents if you disagree.

It is wrong to invoke the Confederacy without mentioning slavery. And too many of our leaders do it. Last year, Va. Gov. Bob McDonnell declared April to be Confederate History Month in the Commonwealth of Virginia without mentioning slavery and its impact on African Americans.

The act of secession by each Southern slave-holding state was treasonous and unpatriotic. It violated the values that lie at the very core of the Declaration of Independence: equality, liberty and freedom.

It is wrong to honor the causes for secession. But the question remains: Because so many UNC students fought and died in the war, how do we honor the soldiers without honoring their mission or their cause?

Should Silent Sam be taken down? No. It is a historical statue that honors the fallen soldiers. The statue has become a landmark on campus, and tearing it down would erase an important part of UNC’s history.

But it should be amended. As it stands, the statue sends the wrong message to students and guests on our campus because it willfully ignores the issue of slavery. It honors the dead as soldiers “whose lives taught the lesson of their great commander that duty is the sublimest word in the English language.” But the defining values of UNC teach us that there is a more sacred duty: to defeat evil, not follow it blindly.

It is not appropriate to invoke the Civil War or mention the Confederacy without directly linking it to what it stood for: slavery. If Silent Sam should remain, at least some mention of slavery should be included next to it or on one of its panels.

Black slaves helped build and run this University, for free. And black individuals weren’t always allowed to attend it as students. We have come a long way since Jim Crow and segregation, but any mention of the Confederacy without an acknowledgement of the evils it expounded moves us backward as an academic institution. The South — as well as UNC — is better off today because the Confederacy was defeated.

Though it is a sensitive issue, it is important for this debate to continue, just as long as we frame it appropriately.

Sam Jacobson is a columnist from The Daily Tar Heel. He is a senior political science major from Bethesda, MD. Contact him at

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