The rise and fall of Silent Sam

Silent Sam has stood on UNC-Chapel Hill's McCorkle Place for 105 years. On Monday August 20, 2018, it was brought down by protesters.
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Silent Sam has stood on UNC-Chapel Hill's McCorkle Place for 105 years. On Monday August 20, 2018, it was brought down by protesters.
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UNC fundraising leaders say Silent Sam threatens safety, reputation of university

By Jane Stancill

jstancill@newsobserver.com

September 05, 2018 06:19 PM

CHAPEL HILL

The leaders of UNC-Chapel Hill’s $4.25 billion fundraising campaign have weighed in on the issue of what to do with Silent Sam, and they support the idea of relocating the Confederate monument.

In a letter Tuesday to the UNC Board of Trustees, eight co-chairs of the Campaign for Carolina said they support UNC Chancellor Carol Folt’s statement last week that the toppled statue should be moved to a new, more appropriate location. The letter was signed by alumni campaign leaders Barbara Hyde, Roger Perry, John Townsend, John Ellison, Michael Kennedy, Jennifer Evans, Vicki Craver and Austin Stephens. All are alumni and most have either served as members of the UNC trustee board or Board of Visitors.

In their letter, the co-chairs called the situation surrounding the debate over Silent Sam an “increasingly dangerous situation impacting our students and faculty and threatening to tarnish the reputation of our nation’s first public university, as well as the State of North Carolina.”

A crowd of protesters pull down the Confederate statue known as Silent Sam on the campus of the University of North Carolina Monday night, Aug. 20, 2018.

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Campaign leaders did not cite any data that the divisive Silent Sam issue was causing a drop in donations. The campaign has raised roughly half its target of raising $4.25 billion by the end of 2022.

“We recognize that those of us who love our University and believe in its mission have held different views on the continued presence of this monument in McCorkle Place,” the letter said. “And many are troubled by the method of its removal. But now that Silent Sam is down, we are united in agreeing that it should not return to its former location. We further believe that the Confederate Monument, located in a proper context on our campus, can become a catalyst for education about America’s darker hours and for civil discourse about our future.”

The letter from the alumni fundraising team is one indication that there is growing support for relocating the statue, despite a 2015 state law that prevents historic monuments from being altered or moved from places of prominence. Folt said Friday in a statement that Silent Sam should have a place on campus “but not at the front door of a safe, welcoming, proudly public research university.”

In a telephone interview, Hyde said the alumni group wanted to express support for the chancellor and for a resolution to the issue.

“Honestly, we think the level of turmoil and divisive conversation around the resolution of the Confederate monument has been draining energy from the more important work of the university,” she said.

Hyde said opinions vary among alumni, but the campaign had not been “significantly affected” by the Silent Sam controversy.

UNC-Board of Governors member Thom Goolsby, in an 8-minute YouTube video, says the Confederate statue Silent Sam was sent crashing to the ground as a result of a sophisticated plan by non-student radicals allowed by police.

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Some members of the UNC system’s Board of Governors have been adamant that the law demands the statue be returned to its pedestal at McCorkle Place, a main gateway to campus near Franklin Street. Board Chairman Harry Smith last week said he was disappointed that Folt expressed her “strong views and opinions” in what he said was a hasty statement by the chancellor. Smith said the process to decide the statue’s future should be a measured one in which all views are considered.

Last week, the UNC Board of Governors gave Folt and the trustee board until Nov. 15 to come up with a plan for the statue, which is now being kept in storage in a secret location.

Faculty have pressured Folt not to return the statue to McCorkle Place.

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt and the campus Board of Trustees have been directed to develop a “lawful and lasting” plan to preserve the Silent Sam Confederate monument according to a resolution passed by the UNC system’s Board of Governors.

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On Wednesday, professors turned their attention to the Board of Governors, which could be the final arbiter of the statue’s location. A letter signed by 450 UNC-Chapel Hill faculty backed Folt’s statement last week about efforts to find a new site for Silent Sam, calling it “an important first step.” It was sent to the Board of Governors, Board of Trustees and key administrators.

“We are determined to have a strong voice in the decision about the disposition of the monument,” the letter said. “We are also encouraged by recent statements by clergy and business leaders in Chapel Hill that make clear their unequivocal opposition to the reinstallation of the statue in its former location. The civic, economic, emotional, and cultural well-being of our community, as well as the university’s educational mission, will suffer continued damage by the presence of the monument on McCorkle Place.”

Last week, a letter signed by 37 faith leaders said that returning the statue to its previous location would further the goal of those who placed it there in 1913 in the Jim Crow era, “venerating white supremacy, and denigrating people of color.”

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce and the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership also called for the permanent relocation of Silent Sam, saying the continued protests around the monument are hurting business and threatening the safety of the town.

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill