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More details of Silent Sam plan emerge at Faculty Executive Committee meeting

silent sam box
A wooden box surrounds the pedestal where Silent Sam stood on Monday, Dec. 3, 2018.

On Monday morning, Chancellor Carol Folt and the Board of Trustees officially recommended the building of a new single-purpose educational building on South Campus to contextualize the University's history, including the toppled Confederate monument Silent Sam.

By the afternoon, a newscaster in a dress shirt and tie was next to where the statue once stood, filming himself with a tripod and large black camera. Metal barricades surrounded the monument's empty pedestal while two police officers stood by Graham Memorial, keeping an eye on the pedestal. 

Meanwhile, across Cameron Avenue, members of the Faculty Executive Committee gathered in Carr Hall to discuss the morning’s announcement. 

Folt and the BOT’s plan is subject to approval from the Board of Governors, who will meet on Dec. 14. 

The Faculty Executive Committee is a body elected for one-year terms. They were joined by Folt, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bob Blouin, Vice Chancellor and General Counsel Mark Merritt and Chief of Staff Amy Locklear Hertel. 

Folt and members of her staff came to the meeting to take questions from the committee. She said she and many of the BOT members wanted to move the monument off campus, but because that was not a possibility, they developed the idea for an educational center to contextualize the monument and other Confederate-era memorabilia. 

Legality of the educational center

Much of the discussion about the future of the monument has hinged on the N.C. Senate Bill 22, which was passed in 2015 and prohibits moving public monuments without the approval of the North Carolina Historical Commission.

Committee member and nutrition and medicine professor Beth Mayer-Davis, who was unable to attend the meeting but joined via speaker phone, asked if Folt and the BOT were taking advantage of a clause of Senate Bill 22 that allows moving a monument if it is in danger. 

Folt said she and the BOT could not use that argument because Silent Sam could feasibly be housed safely in a building on UNC’s campus. Merritt talked about the legal complications with relocating the monument. 

“The law says it can’t be removed from the original jurisdiction it was intended for. It also says you have to put it in a place of similar honor, prominence and accessibly. The law also says if it wasn’t originally in a mausoleum, museum or cemetery, you can’t put it in a mausoleum, museum or cemetery," Merritt said. 

Merritt went on to explain how the proposed educational center would be different from a museum.

“We’re not moving it into a museum, we’re really trying to do something much broader than that," he said. "It’ll be an educational center, where artifacts can be changed out and we can have interactive learning.”

Cost of the educational center

“It was clearly our preference to relocate the artifact. The history museum in Raleigh said they wouldn’t take it, but even if they could take it, it would cost (the museum) $2 million,” Folt said. 

The estimated cost of construction is $5.3 million and $800,000 annually to operate.

“Immediately after the announcement, I went to my class and told them about this, and the cost was their first question. They said, 'Why don’t we have more scholarships, and why are our buildings falling apart and why can’t we hire more faculty, yet we can do this?'” said Cary Levine, committee member and art professor.

Folt said she and the BOT are asking the Board of Governors to request the funding from the General Assembly. 

“We will ask the BOG to ask the legislature to cover the costs, we don’t know if we’ll get it, but we’ll ask,” she said. 

Listening to the community

“The comments from the community had a big influence. Bob, in particular, read every one of those comments. Things like moving it to the library were looking like a real possibility. One of the first feelings we got was that if you’re going to put it in a building with other people, you have to give them a voice, and now we don’t want to put it in a building with other people,” Folt said.

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In past meetings, faculty were specifically encouraged to suggest ideas for Silent Sam during brainstorming sessions. 

“We were told, don’t let the law dictate your ideas, this is about free flow of ideas. So, I was a little struck by the meeting today when you said you’d like to do some things, but you’re bound by the law," Levine said.

Folt said they wanted to encourage the free flow of ideas to explore all options in case Senate Bill 22 was overturned. 

“We didn’t want to bind people. We didn’t want to tell you what to think, and I don’t think a word of that is lost. Public service is hard, and you don’t get to choose which laws you follow. We have to find a solution that we believe is legal and that we do believe is safe,” Folt said.

The need for contextualization

Folt emphasized that most people wanted a solution that would explain the statue’s history.

“I think a center to tell our history is really important. That idea is really important, and that idea came from the community, not just from us. We have many buildings that require more contextualization. We’re sitting in Carr Hall. We’re the first public university, and we have a responsibility to tell that history," Folt said.

In September, Folt announced that the University would create an email for community members to share their ideas for the monument's future. In the meeting on Monday, Folt said that the University couldn't release all of the emails because some contained private information protected by FERPA. 

Carr Hall was named after Julian Carr, who delivered the Silent Sam dedication speech in 1913 that includes the often-quoted statement that he “horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds.”

Blouin said even people who wanted Silent Sam off campus felt the history should not be forgotten.

“The University should not hide behind its history, but understand it and use it as an opportunity to teach. Almost everyone thought there should be an educational component, and they reminded us that that’s part of our mission as a University,” Blouin said.

Folt emphasized the need to preserve even unpleasant parts of the University’s history. 

“We have a lot of issues from slavery and civil rights that have to be dealt with. It’s designed as a full center and education venter; the artifact will be only a piece of a long history," Folt said. 

Folt, her staff and the committee referred to Silent Sam as an "artifact" rather than a monument. 

Tension in the room

Although most in the room seemed to agree that contextualization would help, some wondered if displaying Silent Sam as an artifact rather than a monument would expose the University to more backlash. 

“White supremacists are going to think that they’re conceding this. Do you think the people who marched on campus with Confederate flags are going to be happy with the contextualization?” Levine said.

Levine also wondered if explaining the history of Silent Sam would inherently take away its “honor and prominence.”

“Honest history doesn’t dishonor anyone,” Merrit said.

“Honest history dishonors Nazis,” Levine responded.

Merritt also said Silent Sam's place on McCorkle Place wasn't necessarily an honorable location.

“People honored it where it stood and people dishonored it where it stood. People have laid flowers and protest signs on the pedestal. So, you could argue that where it was not the perfect place of honor and respect,” Merritt said. 

What comes next?

“We have to move forward while realizing that it’s going to take a while,” Folt said. 

The Board of Governors will officially hear the plan at their Dec. 14 meeting. Folt and the BOT are asking for the authority to approach the N.C. Historical Commission, who would have to approve the plan. They estimate the educational center would not be open until 2022 at the earliest. 

“There isn’t anything fast, and we don’t have an interim solution. We certainly aren’t suggesting any interim viewing situation, that’s not our recommendation. We need to tell the story of this monument online as much as possible,” Folt said.

Blouin also said that they do not have the final say. 

“Neither the Chancellor nor the BOT have the authority to make this decision. We’re simply recommending,” said Blouin. 


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