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Silent Sam should not return to UNC campus, faculty council says

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.

UNC-Chapel Hill’s main faculty body voted Friday to support black faculty in their call to remove the Silent Sam Confederate statue, along with its pedestal, from campus.

The Faculty Council passed a resolution that supported Chancellor Carol Folt’s Aug. 31 statement that the statue should not be returned to its prominent position in McCorkle Place at a major entrance to the campus.

But the faculty resolution also went further, saying, “we request the permanent removal of the statue and its base from the UNC Chapel Hill campus.”

The firm position of the main faculty governing body could make it more difficult on Folt, who is working with the UNC Board of Trustees to come up with a politically and legally viable solution for the monument’s future location on campus.

Folt and trustees have until Nov. 15 to present a plan to the UNC system’s Board of Governors. At least one Board of Governors member has said the statue should be promptly returned to its base after protesters ripped it down on Aug. 20.

Friday’s resolution came hours after Folt, speaking at the university’s 225th birthday celebration, made a public apology for the university’s connection to slavery and the oppression of African Americans.

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The faculty resolution on Friday was clear in its opposition to Silent Sam being placed anywhere at UNC.

“Returning the statue to the UNC-Chapel Hill campus would reaffirm the values of white supremacy that motivated its original installation,” the resolution said. “Moreover, to do so would undermine the physical security of all members of our community.”

The resolution ended with: “The values that the statue and its base represent are inherently opposed to the principles of light and liberty that guide the educational mission of UNC-Chapel Hill.”

During the discussion, a graduate student, Lindsay Ayling, read a series of threats that she and other student activists have received since the protests around Silent Sam.

Frank Baumgartner, professor of political science, said the faculty council should endorse a statement signed in September by more than 60 African American faculty. That statement was subsequently supported by about 400 faculty.

That statement said: “A monument to white supremacy, steeped in a history of violence against Black people, and that continues to attract white supremacists, creates a racially hostile work environment and diminishes the University’s reputation worldwide.”

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Baumgartner said black faculty at UNC have a “demoralizing burden” in dealing with a symbol that creates “an unwelcoming and hurtful environment.” He described one colleague who said she feels traumatized every time she hears the story of the speech by Julian Carr at the statue’s dedication in 1913, when he described horsewhipping “a Negro wench.”

Supporters of Silent Sam arrived at the monument's base on Saturday, September 8, 2018. They were met with a counter-protest organized as a potluck and canned food drive. Supporters were escorted out, and several arrests were made afterwards.

A couple of faculty suggested that a civil rights museum on campus could be an appropriate place to place the statue to learn about the history. One professor suggested if the statue is removed, the university in some sense could lose control of the narrative around it.

Adaora Adimora, a professor in the medical school, said she didn’t purport to speak for all black faculty but only for herself.

“I personally would not consider it acceptable to remain on this campus in any form,” she said. “In my view, it represents not only white supremacy but also past treasonous activity against the United States. I see no reason to keep it on this campus or in any place of honor.”

Baumgartner said keeping the statue on campus also creates a fundamental contradiction to the university’s stated goals of an open and diverse community.

“It’s time now for us to ask ourselves whether we’re going to walk the walk,” he said.

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559; @janestancill

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UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt issues a public apology for the university’s connections to slavery and injustice to African Americans during University Day at Memorial Hall in Chapel Hill Friday, Oct. 12, 2018.

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