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Wednesday October 27th

Chapel Hill churches denounce the UNC System's Silent Sam settlement with SCV

<p>Attendees gather in the sanctuary of First Baptist Church in Chapel Hill for worship during a Martin Luther King Jr. rally sponsored by Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP's Youth Council on Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. Hundreds of members of the community gathered to consider King's legacy in Chapel Hill and beyond.</p>
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Attendees gather in the sanctuary of First Baptist Church in Chapel Hill for worship during a Martin Luther King Jr. rally sponsored by Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP's Youth Council on Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. Hundreds of members of the community gathered to consider King's legacy in Chapel Hill and beyond.

The St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal and First Baptist Churches jointly condemned the UNC System’s settlement with the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) in a statement released Friday, Jan. 17. 

The settlement granted the SCV rights to the Confederate monument Silent Sam and $2.5 million for the statue’s upkeep.

In their statement, Rev. Michael Cousin of St. Paul AME Church and Rev. Rodney Coleman of the First Baptist Church criticized the UNC System’s “immoral and disrespectful funding to preserve a symbol of hurt and hate” and its doing so “without the opportunity for public dialogue or consideration.” 

They also urged the community to stand against it.

“It is in the spirit of love that we appeal to the better nature of all to do the right thing, possessing the courage to stand against the threat of social extortion and succumbing to this rising threat,” they wrote.

Cousin said they wanted to issue the statement around Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday celebration because both had similar messages: calls for reconciliation and peace through justice.

This joint statement follows a similar one the United Church of Chapel Hill released on Dec. 20 from Rev. Cameron Barr and the church’s Racial Justice Ministries Committee.

“In order to be right with God, we believe we have to be right with one another,” Barr said. "And so much about our life together as a country and as a community is driven by the living legacy of white supremacy that determines outcomes in education and health care and where people live.”

Barr said the United Church adopted a racial justice covenant in 2016, which summons the congregation to learn more about racial oppression and justice. 

“It commits us to examining our own hearts,” he said. “And it commits us to confessing the ways in which we participate and the ways in which we are complicit in this legacy of racial oppression, and then it commits us to transforming the world where we are able to.” 

UNC junior Isaac House, a political science and history double major, said he doesn’t think statements like these have much impact.

“I support them speaking up for the issues that Silent Sam caused, but I don’t necessarily think that church organizations are being heard much anymore,” he said. “So I don’t think it will change a lot of minds.” 

He also said he doesn’t think faith has a role in politics. But Barr and Cousin disagree.

“I don’t think that the separation of church and state in our country is intended to silence meaningful conversation about our common civic life,” Barr said.

Rather, he said his faith draws him into political conversations.

“If we’re going to grow in love of God and neighbor, then we can’t pretend that our political decisions don’t affect how our neighbors are able to live their lives," he said.

Likewise, Cousin said faith and politics have always been intertwined in the Black community.

“The church has always been on the vanguard of political change for us,” he said. “It was through our faith that we believed that we shall overcome.”

The Civil Rights Movement, he said, was born out of the struggle of the church.

“We would not be in the situation we’re in if we adopted the approach of not being involved,” Cousin said. 

While they said they were glad the statue is no longer on campus, Barr and Cousin said they would like to see the University address and contextualize the history of white supremacy the statue represented. 

“I think that it’s important for people in positions of official responsibility and authority to speak to the humanity of the students and the teachers who were hurt by the statue’s presence,” Barr said, adding that administrators have done that in some cases.

Cousin said he thinks the University has been silent and needs to acknowledge its history since that’s the first step to healing.  

“I know there are others who say, ‘I didn’t own slaves. I didn’t do this,’” he said. “But it is mentally pernicious and cordially pernicious when you know of a history, and it is never acknowledged. Acknowledge it. Have these conversations.”

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