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The Daily Tar Heel

Former UNC chancellor opposes returning Silent Sam to pedestal

Former Chancellor James Moeser at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Former UNC Chancellor James Moeser said Silent Sam should be housed at an on-campus civil rights museum to provide context to the monument in an interview with The Daily Tar Heel. 

Moeser said he opposes returning the monument to its former location on McCorkle Place and offered an alternative solution that he hopes would provide historical context to the monument. 

“First of all, I think the monument cannot go back on the pedestal. That’s just inconceivable to me. But it probably should be preserved in an interior space,” Moeser said. “For me, the ideal solution is the creation of a civil rights museum on campus where we could display that monument.”

Moeser proposed Historic Playmakers Theater as a possible location for the museum. The theater was built in in 1851 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1974. 

“It’s an important architectural landmark. It would be a great place to do a really well-built museum of the University’s history and civil rights history,” Moeser said. “And Silent Sam could be a part of that, because slavery and segregation are part of the story of civil rights.”

Moeser said he believes relocation of the monument is being considered and would be the best alternative to reinstallation. 

“To me, the monument cannot be outside anywhere, where it would be an attraction to demonstrations and continued police vigilance and potential violence,” he said. “It’s a dangerous thing to have, so it needs to be in a curated space, inside some place in a museum.”

Moeser served as chancellor from 2000 to 2008 and now works as a professor in the Department of Music. During his tenure, Moeser said he believed that the statue should remain in place but should be better contextualized.

“I didn’t know that this monument and others were erected in the white supremacy movement of the 1890s to the 1920s,” he said. “And this monument was erected in 1913 as part of that whole movement funded by the Daughters of the Confederacy. It was an attempt to create the myth of the Lost Cause.”

Moeser said the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., last year changed his mind on the subject, and now says he wishes he could have removed the statue during his tenure. 

“I actually regret that we didn't remove the monument when we had a chance when I was chancellor,” Moeser said. “The fact is there was no demand for it, but we could have done it, and we could have done it without tremendous controversy.”

Moeser’s comments come one day after an Orange County district judge found UNC graduate student Maya Little guilty of defacing the statue earlier this year. 

The former chancellor also voiced support for current Chancellor Carol Folt, who issued an apology for the University’s role in slavery during a University Day speech on Oct. 12. 

“I think Chancellor Folt’s statement about slavery was powerful and meaningful, and I applaud her for doing it,” he said. “The unknown here is the Board of Governors and the people behind them in the General Assembly.”  

Chancellor Folt and the UNC Board of Trustees must develop and submit a plan for the statue to be submitted to the UNC-system Board of Governors by Nov. 15.

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