UNC's Confederate statue draws new protest

Nearly century-old Confederate statue is drawing new protest

Staff WriterSeptember 2, 2011 

  • Dedicated in 1913, Silent Sam was funded by N.C. Division of the United Daughters of Confederacy.

    He is considered to be silent because he has no cartridge box for ammunition.

    Legend has it that Silent Sam's gun will fire if a virgin walks by.

    Silent Sam has been a gathering place for other protests. In 1992, students gathered for a "Speak Out" rally after Los Angeles police officers were found not guilty in the Rodney King trial.

— Students gathered Thursday to start a new discussion about the monument known as "Silent Sam."

The statue at UNC-Chapel Hill has been the subject of many debates in the nearly 100 years it has stood in the center of McCorkle Place.

For the passer-by or new student, the statue overlooking Franklin Street may appear to be of little significance, but some of those who know the statue's history say it is a misrepresentation of students and the community.

"For me personally, as a longtime resident of Chapel Hill and student of UNC, it's something that doesn't represent me, the town or the university," said Will McInerney, a senior and part of The Real Silent Sam movement.

The Real Silent Sam movement hopes to spark dialogue and provoke critical thought about the meanings behind the monuments and buildings of Chapel Hill. It hopes to provide the public with information that goes beyond standard narratives.

Silent Sam was erected in 1913 as a monument to the alumni and students who fought and died in the Confederate Army.

Julian Carr, a veteran of the Confederate Army, gave a speech at the statue's unveiling on June 2, 1913, in which he credited the Confederate soldiers with preserving the Anglo Saxon people.

Although it was not the sole purpose of the memorial to support the white supremacist movement, that was a part of it, said Aleck Stephens, an alumnus of UNC-CH and part of The Real Silent Sam movement.

If people in the community and students of UNC-CH knew what the statue represents or that certain buildings on campus were named after leaders of the Ku Klux Klan, they would push for a change, according to McInerney.

Sophomore Jeanetta Clement thinks it is important to be aware of the historical implications of monuments and the names of buildings on campus.

"I do think that the idea of broader campus conversation about Silent Sam and other monuments is a good idea," said James Leloudis, professor of history at UNC-CH.

However, Leloudis is cautious about losing a monument that prompts people to think critically about our past.

"It's a dangerous thing to ignore," he said.

Silent Sam prompts people to confront their history and have serious conversations about race, Leloudis said.

Members of The Real Silent Sam movement have lots of opinions about what should be done about the statue.

Some think it should be removed.

Others say it should be relocated to the Old Chapel Hill cemetery.

Some have advocated adding a new statue of equal size that better represents the diverse character of the university, or adding a plaque to the current statue that describes the historical context in which it was created.

Adding a more detailed plaque or moving Silent Sam was compared to the removal of the Confederate flag from a public building by Stephens.

"(It's) not necessarily promoting amnesia, it's just simply saying, 'We don't want to represent ourselves as being apart of something that is not true to our values now,' " he said.

"The important thing about history is not about commemoration or celebration, but public conversation about finding meaning in the past and hope for our future," said Tim Tyson, UNC-CH faculty member, author and historian.

The UNC-CH administration has not been approached by The Real Silent Sam movement.

At the end of Thursday's gathering, a temporary sign was taped to Silent Sam that reads, in part:

"This memorial to Confederate soldiers who left the university perpetuates an incomplete and inaccurate history - one that intentionally neglects the vast number of North Carolinians who opposed secession and the Confederacy. The original supporters of this monument, both town and university leaders, were motivated by racism and were colluders in a statewide campaign to establish white dominance."

ldouglas@newsobserver.com or 919-932-2008

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service