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Monday September 20th

Chapel Hill mayor and council ask Guskiewicz to keep Silent Sam out of Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger speaks during a Chapel Hill Town Council Work Session at the Chapel Hill Public Library on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020.
Buy Photos Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger and other Town Council members wrote to Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz asking for Silent Sam to stay off campus after Orange County Superior Court Judge Alan Baddour dismissed the $2.5 million settlement between the UNC System Board of Governors and The North Carolina Division Sons of Confederate Veterans Inc.

Earlier this month, Orange County Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour ruled to dismiss the $2.5 million settlement between the UNC System Board of Governors and the North Carolina Division Sons of Confederate Veterans Inc.

Last week, with the monument’s future still unclear, Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger and other members of the Chapel Hill Town Council wrote a letter to Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz requesting that the statue be relocated away from Chapel Hill.

In the letter, the Town said they made the request because the statue was offensive to the Chapel Hill community, created unrest and financially burdened the University and the Town.

"Strong emotions surrounding Silent Sam have existed for many years, including escalating tensions and frequent clashes that have occurred in downtown Chapel Hill in recent years," the letter said. "These emotions demonstrate the very clear and present danger to public safety that will continue to intensify if the statue is returned to campus or located within the Town."

Hemminger said the statue’s location presents issues the Town hopes to proactively address. 

“We want to be a welcoming community for all," Hemminger said. "There’s a public safety concern (with the statue) and someone’s going to get hurt eventually. Governments are supposed to help protect the people, and this is something we take very seriously."

The Town has taken similar positions on other Confederate markers and symbols. In 2018, the Town removed the Jefferson Davis memorial highway marker on Franklin Street.

“As soon as I got the ruling from the attorney general to remove it, it was gone," Hemminger said. "We don’t want anyone to feel threatened or concerned that they wouldn't be welcome in our community.”

Guskiewicz wrote a letter to the BOG in December emphasizing his opposition to the statue returning to campus.

"Since my appointment as interim chancellor, I have maintained that the monument should never return to campus, and I support the work by members of the Board of Governors to pursue this goal,” he said in the letter.

The Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership and the Chamber for a Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro recently penned a letter requesting the statue be placed far away. Although each of the entities sent similar letters back in 2018, Aaron Nelson, the chamber's president and CEO, said the settlement’s recent dismissal prompted the Town's leadership to reiterate their stances.

“Had nothing changed, we probably would not have reissued the letter," Nelson said. "The statue’s future seems uncertain, and we wanted to make sure that our position was clear." 

The letter referenced three reasons to permanently relocate the statue away from Chapel Hill: safety, negative business impact and community reputation.

Representatives from both the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership and Chapel Hill Chamber of Commerce declined to comment on where specifically the monument should go. Matt Gladdek, executive director of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, said he doesn't think Silent Sam has a place on campus or in downtown Chapel Hill. 

“It’s a piece of history that, if anything, we need to learn from," Gladdek said. "I think that we should be moving forward by directing people to the Unsung Founders monument. We need to be moving into an age where everyone feels welcome in our downtown." 

Regardless of the outcome concerning Silent Sam’s placement, Hemminger said the safety of students and community members remains a top priority for Town leadership. 

“I’m the mom of four college kids, three that went to UNC, and you want to know that your kids are safe when they’re away from home," Hemminger said. "As a mom, I take that really seriously."


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