As controversy swirls around North Carolina’s Confederate monuments, an online petition is aimed at perhaps the most well-known statue — Silent Sam.
A change.org petition this week had drawn nearly 2,000 signatures by Thursday afternoon from people who want UNC to remove Silent Sam “and other relics of racism” on campus. The petition is targeted at the UNC Board of Governors, which oversees the public university system.
Many signers suggested that the statue is a blight on the university and belongs in a museum.
“I’m signing because this is shameful to North Carolina and all of our people,” wrote Cathy Bridge of Durham. “My daughter goes to UNC and it is the only horrifyingly embarrassing part of of her experience. Shame on the people that make decisions not to change things!”
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The Confederate soldier statue at the edge of the UNC-Chapel Hill campus has long been a site of protests, including Sunday when a black hood was placed over the monument a day after the racial violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
University officials have not revealed details of their security measures for the statue, which has been under 24-hour video surveillance for some time. Two statues have been vandalized this week in Durham — a Confederate statue that was toppled downtown and a depiction of Robert E. Lee that was damaged at the entrance of Duke Chapel.
Silent Sam, near Franklin Street at the entrance to campus, was erected in 1913 as a memorial to more than 300 alumni who lost their lives in the Civil War. It features a Confederate soldier with a rifle in hand. When the monument was installed, Julian Carr, namesake of Carrboro, gave a speech saying he had whipped an African-American woman until her skirt was in tatters, because she insulted “a Southern lady.”
The Confederate statue has been a flashpoint for student activists and others who want it removed. It has been vandalized several times with spray paint.
Two years ago, the university’s board of trustees renamed a building on campus that had been named for William Saunders, a 19th century Ku Klux Klan leader. At the time the board also enacted a 16-year freeze on renaming other buildings but started a broad effort to curate UNC’s history with markers and historical collections. A task force has been researching the university’s history since, and last year installed an exhibit in the lobby of the former Saunders Hall, now renamed Carolina Hall.
At this point, university officials don’t have the power to take down Silent Sam. The Republican-led legislature passed a law in 2015 preventing the removal of historic statues without legislative approval.
Earlier this week, Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, called for the law’s repeal and the ultimate removal of Confederate monuments. “We cannot continue to glorify a war against the United States of America fought in the defense of slavery,” he said in a statement. “These monuments should come down.”
The proposal drew opposition from a Civil War history group and criticism from Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican who called Cooper’s statements “reactionary and divisive.”