“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.
Finally, there is the belief the statue cannot be removed without permission from The North Carolina General Assembly. It is true the the Republican-controlled General Assembly did create and pass legislation in 2015 to prevent state officials from removing monuments. However, with the permission of the North Carolina Historical Commission, the statue can be relocated for its own protection. After being repeatedly defaced and $390,000 in security costs, I would say it needs protecting.
The Silent Sam protest that occurred yesterday is a testament to the strength of support that exists on campus for erasing symbols of racism at UNC. Let’s just hope it will not require another 105 years of protests and civil disobedience to have this statue put in its place.