Bury it deep. Not just 6 feet under as we do to respect the dead, but 105 feet beneath the soil — one foot for each year that the statue stood. And more than a hundred for the century that students, staff and faculty of color served the University with honor while the statue loomed over them in contempt.
On the surface there would be a full, honest and rich accounting of our history and why we must never be complacent about or complicit in the face of racism. Above the burial site could be the most beautiful remembrance of amazing people of color who have shaped our beloved Carolina. Alongside all the students, faculty, administrators and alumni who were active in the struggle to end the racism that Silent Sam celebrated. Perhaps, Maya Lin, the Vietnam War Memorial artist, might be asked to design a space that captures the true heart of our state and its people. Make it a place where children can learn to celebrate the good and bury the bad without forgetting our history.
We understand that all this is symbolism. But symbols have power far beyond their earthly weight. In their handling of Silent Sam, the administrators of UNC, its chancellor, its Board of Trustees, its Board of Governors, have betrayed the core principle of our stated mission. “With lux, libertas — light and liberty — as its founding principles, the University has charted a bold course of leading change to improve society and to help solve the world’s greatest problems.”
More importantly, they have failed in their duty to keep safe all the people under our charge. Who are not just the white, the male, the rich, the straight, the abled, but a richly diverse reflection of North Carolina today. Sadly, they have created an environment that attracts to campus white supremacists who have threatened and assaulted the University community.
It is time to make amends and the first step is to shout loud and clear ‘never again.’ It is time to demonstrate to those near and far that lux, libertas means doing the right thing, especially if it is difficult. So, yes, abide by the law but let us use our wisdom and creativity to do so in a way that affirms all of the Carolina Community.
Kenneth Sherrill and Andrew Reynolds
Kenneth Sherrill (Carolina ’68) is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Hunter College, New York.
Andrew Reynolds is a Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.