UNC-Chapel Hill Silent Sam

The Silent Sam statue is moved into a truck. The statue was pulled down by protesters at UNC-Chapel Hill on Aug. 20, 2018.

(I've updated the post once below.)

While the rest of America was stuffing their turkeys, packing for a few days at Grandma's and getting their pumpkin pie on, higher ed continued to make headlines.

On Tuesday (when I was writing up this story for the long holiday week), the state Board of Elections approved the use of all UNC System ID cards to vote. On Wednesday (when I was off work), the UNC System gave UNC-Chapel Hill's Silent Sam statue and $2.5 million to the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

First things first: voting ID.

The N.C. General Assembly, as you probably remember, changed the law to require voters to show some sort of approved photo ID before they can cast ballots in 2020. Driver's licenses, passports and military IDs were OK right off the bat, but colleges and universities, local and state governments and some others had to get the state elections board to approve their IDs for voting use.

But most UNC System schools got turned down in March because state election board staff decided that most of their ID cards didn't meet the security standards laid out in state law. As I wrote about here, most schools were tripped up by self-submitted photos (because some schools allow selfies) and Social Security numbers (which UNC schools aren't required to collect but were required to confirm a person's identity). The legislature tweaked the law and let rejected UNC schools re-apply, and here we are.

Here's more from The Associated Press, the UNC System, and the N&O, and here's the Board of Elections news release that lists the 12 UNC System schools whose student and employee IDs were approved Tuesday. IDs at the other five UNC System campuses were approved back in March.

The state elections board keeps a voter ID database here that lists legal forms of voter ID as well as approved student, employee and tribal IDs. (Note that the database doesn't yet include the IDs approved last week.)

Among the other area IDs that can be used to vote: student IDs at Bennett College, Elon University and Wake Forest University, student and employee IDs at Forsyth Tech and employee IDs of Guilford County Schools and the cities of Greensboro and Winston-Salem.

The other big news: Silent Sam.

Shortly after 2 p.m. Wednesday, the UNC System emailed this news release:

This morning a judge entered a consent judgment in a lawsuit involving the Confederate monument known as Silent Sam. The North Carolina Division Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc. (SCV) filed suit and asserted various legal claims against the University of North Carolina System and the Board of Governors concerning the disposition of the monument. ...

The email goes on to explain that the SCV gets Silent Sam and access to a $2.5 million trust fund that "may only be used for certain limited expenses related to the care and preservation of the monument, including potentially a facility to house and display the monument." (The trust fund, by the way, isn't from tuition, student fees or state appropriation. The release doesn't say, but most likely this money comes from the UNC-CH endowment.) The email notes that the SCV can't display the statue in any of the 14 counties that has a UNC System school. In other words, Silent Sam has been banned from Guilford, Forsyth, Wake, Orange, Mecklenburg and several other large N.C. counties.

The N&OWRAL and The Daily Tar Heel have more on this deal.

One of my first reactions to the news was: What lawsuit? I've followed from a distance the Silent Sam story since before and after protesters yanked down the statue in August 2018, and I didn't recall any lawsuit. You would think a lawsuit in a hotly debated and closely watched issue would be newsworthy. Yet I couldn't remember any stories about the UNC System getting sued by the SCV.

Turns out my memory was just fine. As Durham attorney and UNC Board of Governors watcher Greg Doucette pointed out on Twitter and as Durham's Indy Week reported Sunday, the lawsuit didn't exist until Wednesday — the same day the settlement was announced.

This is the latest odd chapter in the weird saga of Silent Sam, which was anchored to the UNC-Chapel Hill by a 2015 state law, a law that tied up in knots both the university and the university system. The law says an "object of remembrance located on public property" can't be "removed, relocated, or altered in any way without the approval of the North Carolina Historical Commission." If an object is removed temporarily, it must be restored within 90 days. If an object is moved permanently, it "shall be relocated to a site of similar prominence, honor, visibility, availability, and access that are within the boundaries of the jurisdiction from which it was relocated."

So everyone was stuck, right? Not so fast. The judge and the parties involved seem to have found an escape hatch in the law. I am not a lawyer, but I'll try to summarize his ruling as posted on WRAL's website:

• The statue was a gift to UNC-CH from the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which at some point signed over rights to Silent Sam to the SCV. That gift, meanwhile, had conditions, one of which was that the statue must stand "forever" on the university campus.

• When UNC-CH removed the statue's base in January, the statue once again became personal property owned by a private party — in this case, the SCV because of the deal I mentioned in the previous bullet point. 

• The 2015 state law that kept Silent Sam on the UNC-CH campus doesn't apply when "an object of remembrance owned by a private party that is located on public property and that is the subject of a legal agreement between the private party and the State or a political subdivision of the State governing the removal or relocation of the object."

So there you go. Silent Sam is gone for good from the Chapel Hill campus, UNC-CH will set aside $2.5 million to get rid of the statue, and lots of people are criticizing the deal. As the Charlotte Observer opined, "(i)t’s an inadequate and clumsy resolution, a washing of hands that continues to stain our state."

Here's more from the Chronicle of Higher Ed and the New York Times.

How was your holiday?

Update, 9:20 a.m. Tuesday: The News & Observer picks up the story:

Even before the N.C. Sons of Confederate Veterans sued the UNC System to take ownership of the Silent Sam Confederate monument and gain access to $2.5 million from the university, the settlement terms had already been agreed upon.

The lawsuit was filed in Orange County Superior Court on Nov. 27, at 11:10 a.m. — the day before Thanksgiving. It outlined a number of allegations against the UNC System related to the Confederate monument and sought declaratory and injunctive relief and monetary damages.

Less than 10 minutes later, a judge declared that an agreement about Silent Sam was lawful and turned over ownership of the statue to the North Carolina chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. 

The N&O story caught a detail I missed in my quick skim of court docs, and that's the UDC turned over its claim to the statue to SCV on Nov. 23.

Go read the whole thing here.

Have something to say about this blog post? Email me at john.newsom@greensboro.com. You can also follow me on Twitter at @JohnNewsomNR.

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