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'A great victory for the people': Judge vacates $2.5 million Silent Sam settlement


Judge Allen Baddour looks on as Sons of Confederate Veterans Inc's lawyer Boyd Sturges speaks during a hearing in the Orange County Courthouse in Hillsborough on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. 

Updated 10:54 p.m: Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz responded to Judge Baddour's dismissal of the Silent Sam suit with a statement reiterating his position on the monument.     

“Today’s court ruling leaves many questions to be answered regarding the ownership and disposition of the monument," he said in the statement. "However I stand behind and reaffirm what I have said for over two years: The monument does not belong on our campus.” 

First there was the toppling of the monument in 2018, and the empty pedestal that stood for months after. Then there was the plan for a $5.3 million freestanding building, which was shot down almost immediately.

Now, the settlement transferring ownership to the North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans has been struck down — and the future of Silent Sam is unclear once again.

Judge Allen Baddour ruled to dismiss the $2.5 million Silent Sam settlement between the UNC System Board of Governors and The North Carolina Division Sons of Confederate Veterans Inc., which has drawn criticism since its announcement in November.

Baddour told a crowded courtroom that the court will vacate the judgement and dismiss the lawsuit between the UNC System and the SCV, stating that the SCV didn’t have standing in the case.

“The sleepless hours of organizing, the consecutive emails and meeting attendances and all of the hours and time and talent and resources that we pulled together was worth it,” De’Ivyion Drew, a UNC sophomore, said. 

The decision came after Drew, along with other UNC students and faculty, filed with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law a motion to intervene with the settlement. 

Baddour did not come to a final decision on what will come of the $2.5 million trust provided to the SCV for the monument’s care and preservation. The fate of the monument itself is also undetermined. 

Elizabeth Haddix, managing attorney for the Committee's case, said she’s happy with the Baddour’s decision on what she believed to be a very clear case.

“It's a great victory for the people,” Haddix said. 

In the Courtroom

Over the course of the decision, multiple parties argued for or against the validity of the deal.

Boyd Sturges, representing the SCV, said the group had a justified claim to the Silent Sam monument via the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and negotiated “in good faith” with the Board of Governors.

“At the end of the day, my client had the standing then to negotiate this,” Sturges said. “And it was done. The fact that folks don’t like it — it’s certainly their right — but it’s not really very relevant.”

The BOG could have worked and waited for years to get a decision from the court that would answer the legal question of what to do with Silent Sam, Ripley Rand, representing the UNC System and Board of Governors in the settlement, argued. 

That risk was “unacceptable” to the Board, he said. 

“We all know that this was a very volatile time on campus, maybe the most volatile time in the history of the University,” Rand said. “The Board of Governors wanted to bring this volatility to an end.”

Haddix said her opponents had argued that the question of what to do with Silent Sam was a political issue.

“The problem with that argument is that it is not for this court to resolve a political issue,” she said. 

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The judge also heard from Burton Craige, who represented a group of 88 alumni appearing as friends of the court who were opposed to the settlement. Craige argued that the University, not the UDC or SCV, held ownership of the moment and had since its commission and installment in 1913.

What’s Next

Drew said she didn’t expect Baddour to make the decision he did Wednesday morning. 

“It is great that the judge chose the freedom side,” Drew said “... They chose the voices of students, staff, faculty (and) community members who have been voicing this for decades.

Moving forward, Drew said she’d like to see the statue destroyed. 

“It represents a false history,” Drew said. “And it represents a history that is alternative to the truth-seeking motivations and mission of the University.”

Multiple UNC alumni were in attendance for the court decision, including Walter Jackson and former congressman Mel Watt, two classmates who graduated in 1967and were among the first Black students to attend the University.

Watt said he was elated by the outcome. 

“From my perspective,” he said. “This was a pretty clear-cut case, where they tried to use the court to put a stamp of approval on something that —”

“It was wrong,” Jackson said.

Watt nodded. 

“It was wrong,” Watt said. “And for the court to say, 'I'm not going to allow the court to be used that way’... I think the result is the right result.”

Jackson agreed and said the settlement was flawed from the beginning.

“I think it's an understatement to say that African American alumni by and large were outraged over the idea of giving $2.5 million of the University's money to the Sons of Confederate Veteran, given that organizations legacy and purposes,” he said. “It just made no sense.”