Silent Sam, Carol Folt and other UNC newsmakers are common topics on Twitter, with tweets, hashtags, pictures and video footage often appearing on local and national news stations. Silent Sam’s toppling and Carol Folt’s resignation are a few among the many stories that some students first heard about through the platform.
Just 10 days ago, a new Twitter account was created called @sams_reckoning in an effort to disperse a complete, intuitive history about the University’s slave-owning history, focused around the 287 Confederate soldiers memorialized by Silent Sam.
The account first tweeted on Jan. 13: “Our goal is to give a complete reckoning of #SilentSam’s slaveowning Confederate dead, so that the next time someone comes along to prop him up, they’ll be able to measure precisely the legacy of human suffering and oppression that they celebrate.”
The account is managed by nine members of different ages, backgrounds and affiliations with the University. A contributor to the account requested to speak anonymously with the DTH due to fear of targeting.
“It came together organically,” the contributor said. “Our motivation was from watching the parade of neo-Confederate groups coming onto campus, basing their rally cries on myths. The Confederate soldiers’ family’s role in the slave trade is always a missing piece in the discussion.”
UNC professor Altha Cravey, an anti-Silent Sam activist and follower of the account, said the tweets have sparked conversation in a short period of time.
"It illustrates the potential enthusiasm and enlightenment UNC could generate if the institution begins to wrestle with its history, instead of resisting this kind of educational effort," Cravey said in a Twitter message.
Many of the account’s threads start by focusing on individual UNC-affiliated Confederate soldiers’ birthplace, family history and their role in Southern slave-ownership. Information published by the account comes from research conducted by UNC’s General Alumni Association concerning the 287 Confederate dead, as well as from past censuses, family wills, digitized newspapers, recovered slave schedules and other public records.
The account plans to go through the entire 287 soldiers listed, while giving depth to their family’s social, economic and political background. The account also seeks to expose the University’s role in using plantation property and the slave trade as a source of endowment funds through the Escheat system.
“It’s challenging work,” the contributor said, “but it’s engrossing, compelling and necessary. We’re not going to stop doing it.”
The group said they turned to Twitter because of its simplistic and fast-paced nature.
“Media coverage, videos that people have taken at events and rallies, all of that information is being shared on Twitter because it’s immediate,” the source said. “The conversation is already there, and we want to empower activists to have this information so that they can combat white supremacists.”
The account has accrued over 550 followers since its start. The group has also created their own website, linked in the account’s bio. According to the source, some of the account’s contributors have background in genealogy, archives training and publishing open data.
“We’ve actually had some people with family connections kinda jump in a say, ‘Someone in my family is actually on this list,’ who want the truth to come to light,” the source said. “It’s a collective action.”
Orange County resident and anti-Silent Sam activist Heather Redding has seen the account and said that in order for the nation to heal, it is important to have an honest account of the past.
"We also narrate history through the lens of the powerful, and @sams_reckoning appears to be giving voice to really people who had real names," Redding said in a statement. "This is a valuable part of the healing process, and necessary if we want meaningful change."
While the account is mainly focused on the 287 Confederate Dead, the source said the account will continue to unearth facts about UNC’s history, including the historical significance of prominent names and symbols on campus and throughout Chapel Hill. Following the full removal of Silent Sam, the group says its work grows increasingly important.
“We’re at this really risky place, so that it’d be really easy for us to sweep this under the rug and not fully reconcile with the University’s history," the source said. "Silent Sam’s being carted off into a warehouse and University officials are hoping that this sort of history will be forgotten.”
The group hopes to keep the discussion going on Twitter and continue to spread truth about UNC’s history.
“We can do some retro-doxing," the source said. "To anyone who wants to push back against it and say it’s irrelevant, we can show you the truth.”
University editor Myah Ward contributed reporting.
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