A Union soldier has taken the place of Silent Sam on McCorkle Place since January, with a mission to educate the community.
William Thorpe is the sole orchestrator of the "One-Man Stand" and founder and director of UNC Walk for Health. He hosted a musical tribute event Thursday in honor of both the Union soldier and Martin Luther King Jr. on the 51st anniversary of his death.
Thorpe connected the three aspects of the day in a positive light.
“Today, on this day, the anniversary day of Dr. King’s death, we don’t see it as assassination or death or morbid, but we see it as resurrection, rebuilding and revising the mission that Dr. King, the Union soldier, the University and America, and bring it all together,” he said.
The UNC Gospel Choir performed an opening song at the event at the Peace and Justice Plaza. Thorpe gave short addresses between musical numbers he had selected to play, including “America the Beautiful,” “Carolina in My Mind” by James Taylor, “Waiting On the World to Change” by John Mayer and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic."
Following the program in the plaza, Thorpe, trailed by the choir, marched to the Old Well through McCorkle Place, where he has stood for 30 minutes every Thursday since the beginning of the semester.
Thorpe began his "One-Man Stand" on Jan. 24. He stands at the former site of Silent Sam wearing a Union soldier uniform that he purchased from Amazon. He said he will stand for 105 days, with one day representing each year that Silent Sam stood on campus.
Thorpe said the Union soldier was the best representation of the University’s motto, Lux Libertas, because of the soldier’s demonstration of patriotism, valor and morality. His humble suggestion to the University, he said, is to replace Silent Sam with a Union soldier.
“I paraphrase King by saying that true peace at UNC-Chapel Hill is not merely the absence of Silent Sam, but is the presence of the image of the Union soldier,” he said. “It’s not enough to just to put up a Union soldier statue, there has to be an educational component, educational campaign, to explain the significance for what that Union soldier fought and died to preserve, all of those rights that we enjoy today.”
Tia Byres, a senior public policy major, agrees that awareness is important for change. She said that part of activism is education.
“I think that’s part of activism because part of just ignorance and hate and oppression is trying to rewrite history, and so knowing the true history is a part of activism,” she said.
Thorpe, who is a native of Chapel Hill and a UNC graduate, co-founded UNC Walk for Health in 2015 with Bobby Gersten, a former UNC basketball and baseball player. The procession from the Peace and Justice Plaza to the Old Well incorporated what Thorpe and the organization promote as the best form of exercise: walking. Thorpe said the organization hosts events that promote physical fitness and mental well-being.
The organization also deals with Silent Sam because of its effect on mental health.
“For many it represents slavery; it represents Jim Crow," Thorpe said. "But we look at it from a health perspective. It represents death, disease and destruction.”
Thorpe said he tries to keep everything positive, uplifting and inspiring.
“This is my life,” he said. “Every week I come out here, and so part of what I have to do is think. I have to use my time and talent and the balance of my life for what will help other people.”
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