“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.
I’ve only lived in two cities my whole life, both in North Carolina and both home to Confederate monuments. I have seen the protests and unrest, the increase in racial tensions and the violence they cause. I’ve been asked repeatedly “what the big deal” is about these statues, and why our society should condemn them. I’ve heard excuses repeatedly for keeping it where it is, such as “inanimate objects like Silent Sam can’t be racist,” and “by removing the statue we would be erasing history.”
But the issue of Confederate memorials goes beyond party lines. It transcends our place of birth and the color of our skin. This issue is one that has been around since our country’s founding. It is a stain upon our nation that we have seen time and time again. It is complacency in prejudice.
Every day hundreds of our fellow Tar Heels of color walked past a statue dedicated to those who declared war against the United States in defense of slavery. The debate on whether to remove this blemish from our campus is now more heated than it has been in many years. The University spent nearly $400,000 protecting it last year alone due to strong opposition to its continued presence at UNC.
I strongly believe the most prevalent feeling among my fellow students, including myself, toward Silent Sam is anger. Anger that a symbol of discrimination and hate would be allowed to remain at the forefront of our campus for more than 100 years. Anger that our fellow students were jailed and punished for attempting to rectify this wrong. Anger that our efforts to persuade our administrators, the Board of Trustees and the Board of Governors of this internal abuse was met with further attacks on our fight against injustice.
I don’t encourage the methods used to bring Silent Sam down last night. They often result in violence, arrests and harsh punishment. However, it was only a matter of time before the students of this prestigious school took matters into their own hands. Our administrators should use better foresight and recognize that students will no longer sit complacently.
I am hopeful that maybe, just maybe, future generations of Tar Heels won’t have to feel the evil, Jim-Crow-era stare of Silent Sam that I and so many others experienced.