“This is an act of forgetting in plain sight,” he said while leading the Black and Blue Tour on Friday. The tour explores UNC’s landmarks in the context of racial history on campus.
McMillan, a senior lecturer in the Department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies, has led the tour since 2001.
Previously a project for the class he teaches in the department, entitled “Defining Blackness,” McMillan’s tour covers Silent Sam, the Joseph Caldwell Monument, the Unsung Founders Memorial and some of the graves in the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery.
This semester, the Unsung Founders Memorial has been the impetus for demonstrations organized by student activist group The Real Silent Sam, whose members aim to raise awareness about the history of campus landmarks and their correlation to minority oppression.
More than 40 students, professors and curious community members took Friday’s tour. McMillan estimates that he offers the tour at least 15 times a year.
“People are interested in seeing a different view of campus,” he said. “People want to take a different look at the places they see all the time.”
McMillan said that despite the prominence of the landmarks, the racial implications they carry sometimes go unnoticed. Silent Sam, a monument erected in 1913, honors Confederate soldiers but overshadows the Unsung Founders Memorial, McMillan said.
He said people also sit on the Unsung Founders monument with their feet propped on the bronze statues holding the table up, weathering away the very people the monument honors.
“The fact that UNC has this long documented history of enslavement that people chose not to acknowledge is insane to me,” said Charity Watkins, a graduate student adviser for Diversity and Inclusiveness in Collegiate Environments, who attended the tour.
McMillan said there have been more efforts to acknowledge UNC’s history of slavery and segregation in the past few years. But with freshmen black and Latino men each representing about 3 percent of their class, he believes UNC should be more diverse.
Sophomore Victoria Hamby is not convinced efforts to raise awareness are working.
“It’s interesting to learn about the attempts to recognize the past, and yet we’re still forgetting,” she said. “I don’t think it’s getting the attention it needs.”
McMillan has spent five years doing research on UNC’s racial history, and he said his research is continuous. He plans to continue offering the Black and Blue Tour.
“I can teach the history of American slavery by the landmarks on campus,” McMillan said.