“Silent Sam” has left and gone away, presumably forever. Good riddance. But at what price?
The statue of a stoic rebel soldier that had stood watch on a prominent perch at UNC-Chapel Hill, has been given to new caretakers, the N.C. Sons of Confederate Veterans, who will find a new home for it ... somewhere else, anywhere other than the Southern Part of Heaven.
The statue of a Confederate soldier, which was ripped from its pedestal in August 2018 by protesters and never returned, had sparked a civil war of its own.
To some, Sam was revered as a symbol of history and sacrifice. To many others, he was emblematic of something ugly and hurtful: the legacy of slavery and white supremacy and resurgent oppression of African Americans in the South.
He was in fact, dedicated at a ceremony in 1913 during which one speaker, Confederate veteran and UNC trustee Julian Carr, reveled at one point in having horse-whipped “a negro wench” who he felt did not know her place.
You would think the long-awaited resolution to this issue by the UNC Board of Governors would be cause for celebration. The agreement makes it clear that Silent Sam can neither be returned to the UNC-CH campus nor relocated to any of the 14 counties in the state where UNC system schools are located. But it feels empty and tainted and deceitful all the same. And here’s why:
A group of Board of Governors members, UNC-CH trustees and other university leaders chose to negotiate with a dubious broker. The SCV is known for its fringe-worthy beliefs and rhetoric. As Lecia Brooks of the Southern Poverty Law Center noted in an email to The News & Observer of Raleigh, the SCV’s website includes a 1929 pamphlet called “A Confederate Catechism,” which disputes that slavery caused the Civil War, and which declares that “negroes were the most spoiled domestics in the world.”
Even excluding 14 counties where Sam can’t be relocated (including Guilford, heaven forbid), that leaves 86 others.
The negotiations were held entirely behind closed doors and their outcome was revealed the afternoon on the day before Thanksgiving.
In a curious, “you had me at ‘hello’ ” fervor, UNC’s representatives seemed more than eager to please. They not only agreed to donate the statue to the SCV, but provided up to $2.5 million in a private trust for the statue’s relocation and upkeep. That money involves no taxpayer funds, UNC leaders say. But surely it could have been used for a better purpose. Like education?
The settlement was agreed upon before the SCV was about to sue for control of the statue — a case SCV leaders thought they would lose. At one point during the summer, SCV Commander Kevin Stone said in a letter to members, “We were despondent and thought that despite the exorbitant expense we had zero chance of winning. We were going to instruct our attorney to sue just so we could say we tried honourably.”
Even so, UNC appeared willing to give them what they wanted. And more. “What we have accomplished is something that I never dreamed we could accomplish in a thousand years, and all at the expense of the University itself,” Stone gushed in the letter. He went on to describe the settlement as “a major strategic victory.”
So after more than a year, Sam is gone, and so it appears, are the integrity and self-respect of some UNC leaders, who seemed to have believed “The Lost Cause” was theirs, and dutifully knelt before a group of neo-Confederates.