UNC faculty and student government groups want Silent Sam removed

Jack Leland, a UNC sophomore, stands at one of the outer rings of barricades around the Silent Sam Confederate memorial on the UNC Chapel Hill campus in this August 2017 file photo.
Jack Leland, a UNC sophomore, stands at one of the outer rings of barricades around the Silent Sam Confederate memorial on the UNC Chapel Hill campus in this August 2017 file photo.

UNC-Chapel Hill faculty and student leaders took a stand on Silent Sam Friday, requesting removal of the Confederate statue from a prominent spot on campus.

Late Friday, the Faculty Council voted on a resolution asking that the statue be taken down. The council urged UNC President Margaret Spellings, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt, Gov. Roy Cooper, the N.C. Historical Commission, the UNC Board of Governors, the UNC-Chapel Hill board of trustees and the legislature “to work together to make this move possible.”

The vote was nearly unanimous by the faculty governance body.

Also Friday, student government groups issued a joint statement, calling on university and political leaders to remove the Silent Sam statue.

“We encourage you to remove the monument so that it can be preserved and contextualized for future North Carolinians in a museum or library collection while making it clear that we do not glorify our violent past,” the statement said.

Student leaders said removing the statue from the heart of UNC’s campus “will also symbolize Carolina’s commitment to inclusivity of students of diverse backgrounds.”

The statement was signed by: Katharine Shriver, speaker of UNC’s Undergraduate Senate; Elizabeth Adkins, student body president; Madelyn Percy, president, and Brian Coussens, vice president, of the Graduate and Professional Student Federation.

Folt, speaking to the Faculty Council’s regular meeting Friday, said the university finds itself in a difficult situation – under enormous pressure to remove the statue but without the legal authority to do anything because of a 2015 state law that prevents the removal or alteration of a public monument. Folt, Spellings and board chairmen wrote to Cooper asking him to convene the historical commission to take up the issue, out of a concern for public safety. Cooper responded that UNC leaders could take action based on a public safety exception under the law. University lawyers have said that exception only applies when the statue itself poses a physical hazard.

Folt explained to faculty that two years ago, as the law was passed, UNC renamed a building that had been named for a former Ku Klux Klan leader. At the same time, a special history committee at UNC began work on ways to contextualize the university’s history. One item on that group’s agenda was Silent Sam.

Folt said the committee has been working for more than a year to design what she termed a “beautiful” contextualizing marker to explain the history of Silent Sam.

It was due to be presented to the board of trustees in September, she said. Then came the huge protest last month of Silent Sam after the violence in Charlottesville, Va.

“It shows you, in a moment, everything can change,” she said.

Folt, who has expressed support for removing the statue, said Friday the history committee’s process will continue, despite the legal impasse.

She said she understands some people support the idea of contextualizing history, but others think it’s inappropriate. She added that she will continue to keep track of the costs of surveillance and security around the statue.

Student leaders expressed concern that the legislature, the UNC Board of Governors and the UNC-Chapel Hill board of trustees have not taken action.

In their statement they cited a speech given by Julian Carr at the statue’s dedication, when he said he whipped a black woman near the site of the monument.

The student leaders said UNC already has a monument in memory of alumni lost in war, in front of Memorial Hall.

“The Silent Sam monument does not memorialize those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the United States of America, but rather stands as a sentinel, facing due north in defense of the larger rebellion to occur in American history,” the student statement said.

They pointed to the University of Texas, University of Louisville and Duke University, all of which have removed Confederate memorials from public spaces recently.

The UNC students suggest that the university’s library could house the statue “as a valuable teaching resource.”

“The student body of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill does not wish to wipe out our history, but we also do not want to see racism celebrated,” the statement said.

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill