Education

UNC law faculty: Confederate Silent Sam statue ‘sends a message of white supremacy’

The Silent Sam statue, a memorial to Confederate soldiers, on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill has been under siege for more than a year from students, faculty and citizens calling for Chancellor Carol Folt to remove or relocate it.
The Silent Sam statue, a memorial to Confederate soldiers, on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill has been under siege for more than a year from students, faculty and citizens calling for Chancellor Carol Folt to remove or relocate it. tlong@newsobserver.com

The call to immediately remove the Silent Sam statue from the UNC Chapel Hill campus grew stronger this week when law school faculty added their voices in a statement.

The statue of an armed Confederate soldier “sends a message of white supremacy that the university should refuse to endorse,” read Thursday’s statement signed by 34 UNC School of Law professors.

Silent Sam has been “a symbol of white supremacy, violence and indignity” from the beginning, they said, citing the speech that Confederate war veteran Julian S. Carr gave at the statue’s dedication on June 2, 1913. Carr’s speech famously included his account of horse whipping “a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds” after his return from Appomattox for insulting “a Southern lady.”

“The present generation, I am persuaded, scarcely takes note of what the Confederate soldier meant to the welfare of the Anglo-Saxon race,” Carr said. “If every State of the South had done what North Carolina did ... the political geography of America would have been re-written.”

The statue’s symbolism is particularly worrisome, given the UNC Board of Governors’ recent action banning the UNC Center for Civil Rights from representing or counseling clients, they said.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has advised UNC Chancellor Carol Folt that the university can remove or relocate the statue if there is a public safety concern. Folt has expressed support for removing the statue but said the university lacks the legal authority to do that because of a 2015 state law that prevents the removal or alteration of monuments on public land.

The faculty statement urged the university to seek a court judgment if its leaders remain unsure of their legal ability to remove the statue.

Previous statements urging the university to take down the statue have come from other UNC departments, the Faculty Council, UNC students and Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger, who cited a concern for public safety.

Attorney Hampton Dellinger, representing the UNC Black Law Students Association and other UNC students, sent a letter to Folt and UNC system President Margaret Spellings in September advising them that he is prepared to file a federal lawsuit if the statue is not removed.

The law school faculty’s statement noted that UNC, on its website, also acknowledges Silent Sam’s history as defending slavery and glorifying the Confederacy. Many community members see the statue as confirmation that all citizens are not equal, they added.

“This disparaging and marginalizing symbol has no place at the core of an inclusive learning environment,” the faculty said. “We also believe that the message it sends undercuts the university’s mission ‘to teach a diverse community of undergraduate, graduate, and professional students to become the next generation of leaders’.”

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

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