With Silent Sam gone (for now), is Jefferson Davis marker in Chapel Hill next?

Protesters may get another Confederate marker removed from downtown Chapel Hill — this time with the help of Chapel Hill’s town government.

The town’s attorney was asked Wednesday to talk with the state about removing a Jefferson Davis Highway marker on East Franklin Street, near UNC’s campus.

Mayor Pam Hemminger and Town Council members Allen Buansi and Karen Stegman petitioned the full council to authorize that step.

The council unanimously approved the petition with no discussion just days after UNC Chancellor Carol Folt made the surprise announcement that she would resign after the spring graduation.

Folt also ordered the removal of the Silent Sam Confederate statue’s base Monday. Protesters toppled the statue on Aug. 20, and both it and the base will remain in storage, Folt said.

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The Board of Governors later announced Folt would be leaving two weeks early, on Jan. 31. A report with recommendations for the statue’s future is still due to the board March 15.

Hemminger, who petitioned Folt in 2017 to remove Silent Sam because of the public safety risk, said the town received numerous requests last year to remove the Jefferson Davis marker. UNC protesters also have pushed for the marker’s removal.

In October, the Orange County Board of Commissioners repealed a 1959 resolution honoring Davis, the only president of the Confederate States of America, in response to a citizen petition. The resolution had designated U.S. 15 through Orange County as the Jefferson Davis National Highway.

But the county didn’t have the authority to remove the roughly 2-foot-tall, stone Jefferson Davis marker. Hemminger said the town has been working with state and UNC officials to find out who owns the land and the marker. It’s in the N.C. Department of Transportation right of way, she said, but the state doesn’t own the land or the marker.

“Since that time, conversations between the town, Orange County and NCDOT have failed to identify a clear path forward,” Hemminger said.

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The petition directs Town Attorney Ralph Karpinos to send a letter to N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein to find out who has authority over the property and whether the marker can be removed.

NCDOT staff members reached last fall said the marker may be privately owned. The United Daughters of the Confederacy campaign to install Jefferson Davis markers across the country began in 1913. The goal was to create a system of highways — the Jefferson Davis Memorial, Jefferson Davis and Jefferson Davis National highways — to honor the former Confederate president, slaveowner and white supremacist.

The UDC was inspired to honor Davis by plans in 1912 to create a coast-to-coast rock highway to honor President Abraham Lincoln, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

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Tammy Grubb has written about Orange County’s politics, people and government since 2010. She is a UNC-Chapel Hill alumna and has lived and worked in the Triangle for over 25 years.
Jane Stancill has reported on higher ed for The News & Observer for 20 years. She has won state and national awards for her coverage of education.
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