The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday August 15th

Guest op-ed: Silent Sam speaks

I have been taken down by a mob as a symbol of bigotry. That is not all of who I am. 

My dedication reflected the conflicts of the American soul. The main speaker’s words, the Governor’s, suggested an important role for me, the University and the state:

"Ours is the task to build a State worthy of all patriotism and heroic deeds," he said. "A State that demands justice for herself and all her people, a State sounding with the music of victorious industry, a State whose awakened conscience shall lead the State to evolve from the forces of progress a new social order, with finer development for all conditions and classes of our people."

I have anchored the “front door” to UNC-Chapel Hill, the oldest public university in the nation, in a state that has sought to rise to the Governor’s challenge, helping to forever change the South and the country for the better.

Our times now remind me of those of my birth – harsh divisiveness, fear, anger, pain – we lay in echoes of a bitter war that nearly ended our founding. “Silent” statues of combatants rose, without “ammunition”, symbolizing moving past conflict and killing – sadly, yet to be completely fulfilled. Thus, at its core, the intent of my creation was healing. 

We must use the potential healing power of monument again to fulfill the University motto: “Lux et Libertas," Light and Liberty, not just for UNC, not just for Chapel Hill, but for our fragmented country. Shunting me away is the easy way out and rewards the ideological lawlessness simmering in our land. 

My former presence must not be obliterated. It must become a part of needed dialogue about the complexity of racism in fulfilling Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness for all, the meaning of “America”. Removing all evidence of my existence is admitting failure of our better angels, instead of enabling it with honest discourse. 

As Terry Eagleton wrote: “a critical reflection on human values and principles should be central to everything that goes on in universities, not just to the study of Rembrandt and Rimbaud .” This is not a new role for UNC or the ground where I was placed; UNC’s racial integration, the Speaker Ban, the death of Martin Luther King Jr., the Vietnam War protests across the street…

The gate to UNC needs to be widened, not narrowed. There need to be permanent reminders, including of me, to symbolize our strained turning toward true respect and equality for all our citizens. Then, these pieces together can create a great space for open dialogue to bind and seal our wounds. 

"When I walk along with two others, from at least one I will be able to learn." – Confucius

Lester Levine

Class of 1969

Masters of Education, 1971

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