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Chapel Hill mayor asks UNC to remove Silent Sam

Heather Heyer flag
Protesters drape a flag that reads "Rest in Power: Heather Heyer" over the Silent Sam monument. Heyer was hit and killed by a car that drove into a crowd during the Charlottesville protests.

Chapel Hill mayor Pam Hemminger sent a letter to Chancellor Carol Folt asking UNC to take down Silent Sam — a monument to Confederate soldiers on UNC's campus. 

Hemminger made the letter public on the Town of Chapel Hill's website Friday evening. 

"I am writing to request that UNC petition the North Carolina Historical Commission to have the statue of Silent Sam removed immediately from its current location on campus and placed in storage," Hemminger wrote. 

While student organizations have called for Silent Sam to be removed for years, Hemminger joins many other voices calling for the statue to be removed from a place of prominence on UNC's campus following violence in Charlottesville last weekend. 

"We have received the letter and will continue to to work with the town to do everything possible to protect the safety of our campus and the community," Joanne Peters Denny, director of media relations for UNC, said in a text message. 

Currently North Carolina law prevents removal of monuments from public property, but Hemminger says there might be a way to remove Silent Sam if the N.C. Historical Commission gives permission due to the threats facing the statue. 

"The object of the statute is to protect the monuments located on public property. The statute acknowledges that there may be times when a political subdivision of the state, such as the University, is required to take 'appropriate measures' to preserve a monument," Hemminger wrote. 

Hemminger says that given threats to further demolish Confederate statues were made following the destruction of a Confederate statue in Durham, UNC could make the case that Silent Sam needs to be moved for its own protection — but it may not be that simple. 

"This circumstance certainly calls for the University to be able to take the proactive step of removing the statue from harm’s way.  Indeed, asking for permission to do so is entirely consistent with the purpose of the statute and the mission of the Historical Commission," Hemminger said. 

Yet, under the law Hemminger sites in the letter, makes special provisions for an "object of remembrance" — which Silent Sam is considered to be. 

"An object of remembrance located on public property may not be permanently removed and may only be relocated, whether temporarily or permanently, under the circumstances listed in this subsection," the law states. 

This story will be updated with additional comments from UNC and Chapel Hill as they are made available.

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