Silent Sam — the confederate monument that once stood on McCorkle Place — plagued UNC’s campus for over a century. Erected as an icon of white supremacy — not as a memorial — the statue faced student protest for decades before finally being pulled down by a group of students.
Now, three and a half years later, his disturbing legacy persists.
The removal of Silent Sam was long overdue, but his departure mirrored its origins. Since that fateful protest, Black students have faced criminal charges, while white supremacist and neo-Confederate groups have found ways to use the statue to promote a lost cause.
The examples are insidious and borderline absurd. First, the Board of Governors drafted a plan to spend $5.3 million dollars on a museum specifically to house Silent Sam. The plan purported compromise by simultaneously removing Silent Sam from its original place of prominence, while also investing millions into giving it a brand-new place of prominence.
Then, the United Daughters of the Confederacy — the group that gifted the statue to the University back in 1913 — reportedly sold their property interest in the statue. While they didn’t actually have a legal claim to the statue because it was a gift, they still were able to use this moment to literally profit.
Most egregiously, the North Carolina Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans negotiated a $2.5 million settlement with the University where they were to acquire both the statue and a trust to cover the statue’s care and display. The University was going to pay millions to fund a neo-Confederate group’s usage of Silent Sam in perpetuity.
The agreement quickly came under scrutiny. Court documents revealed the settlement was filed minutes after the initial lawsuit, indicating that the University had negotiated the settlement before the lawsuit was even filed. Further, the lawsuit that was filed wasn’t even a legitimate lawsuit and had no backing to be in court.
The settlement was thankfully vacated when students and faculty members sued, pointing out this discrepancy. Settlements like these are used to bypass regulations and public scrutiny.
Since the settlement’s terms are approved by the court in a consent judgment, the University is obligated to fulfill them even though the terms were not approved in open meetings or even by the UNC System’s dedicated task force.
In effect, UNC settled a fictitious lawsuit in order to make a deal with the Sons of Confederate Veterans and secure the future of Silent Sam while side-stepping public input.
Raleigh attorney Ripley Rand represented UNC in the fake lawsuit. Now, reports show that he is yet the latest white man to profit off of Silent Sam. According to IndyWeek, Rand was paid to the tune of nearly $250,000 for his work representing UNC and the Board of Governors in the litigation.
While, presumably, Rand assisted the University in negotiations, there was no real litigation as the lawsuit was a mere pretense.
So, why did the offices of Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein both sign off on not just an initial payment cap of $125,000, but also an increased payment cap of $250,000 for Rand?
It’s for the same reason that the University approved the $2.5 million settlement in the first place. In this state, those in power protect and look after their own. After all these years, Silent Sam is still fulfilling his original purpose: to remind us that white supremacy is the University’s only constant.
These eerie echoes are seen in every aspect of Silent Sam’s legacy, even in how the protests surrounding him are remembered. While a group of students worked on a documentary about the Silent Sam protests, a pair of white filmmakers — Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky — started shopping their own documentary on the topic on the festival circuit.
Hawley and Galinsky’s film followed student protestors who didn’t even know they were being filmed. After yet another protest, it was eventually pulled from festivals.
Even after the University is held accountable, Rand still walks away with a paycheck. Even when Hawley and Galinsky are held accountable, they are the ones continuing to sell their films. Even after Silent Sam is pulled down, he’s still used to support Confederate groups.
Despite his absence, Silent Sam still looms over this institution. The Board of Governors and other state and university officials have taken the product of decades of Black student activism and used it to make money for not just white people, but actual white supremacist groups. And this has been rubber-stamped from both the legislature and the governor’s office.
There has only been one appropriate end for Silent Sam — throw him away. He deserves to be melted down into sludge so that his legacy — and the burden he places on this campus — can finally come to an end.
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