Orange County

Why wasn’t UNC’s Silent Sam included as NC discusses fates of some Confederate statues?

The ‘Silent Sam’ statue, a memorial to Confederate soldiers who attended UNC Chapel Hill, was covered in black cloth as few hundred demonstrators gathered at the statue on Aug. 13 after violent clashes between white supremacists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Va. turned deadly.
The ‘Silent Sam’ statue, a memorial to Confederate soldiers who attended UNC Chapel Hill, was covered in black cloth as few hundred demonstrators gathered at the statue on Aug. 13 after violent clashes between white supremacists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Va. turned deadly. The News & Observer

The N.C. Historical Commission will consider the removal of several Confederate monuments Friday, but Silent Sam will not be among them.

UNC-Chapel Hill has yet to send a petition to remove the statue on the McCorkle Place quad off Franklin Street, university spokeswoman Joanne Peters Denny said.

The historical commission will consider a request from Gov. Roy Cooper to move three Confederate monuments from the State Capitol grounds to the Bentonville Civil War battlefield site in Johnston County.

UNC-CH officials say they will watch those proceedings as they decide how to proceed with Silent Sam.

“We are carefully following these proceedings, which we hope will shed light on what standards the commission will be using to evaluate such matters,” Peters Denny said. “Based on consultations with legal counsel at both UNC-Chapel Hill and General Administration, it is clear that neither UNC-Chapel Hill nor the UNC system have the authority to unilaterally remove the Silent Sam statue. Any suggestion that we have unilateral authority is inaccurate,” she said.

A 2015 state law requires that elected officials seek approval from the commission before removing historical monuments.

In August, during protests against Silent Sam, the governor gave UNC-CH permission to remove the statue. Cooper said part of the 2015 law lets statues be removed if there are public safety concerns. Campus and town leaders were concerned about the potential for violence during protests surrounding Silent Sam after a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned violent.

But university officials disagreed with Cooper’s analysis. Safety concerns have to be pointed out by “a building inspector or similar official,” they said, and the university elected to keep Silent Sam in place. At the time, university officials said they were “caught between conflicting legal interpretations of the statute from the governor and other legal experts.”

Hundreds of people gathered Aug. 22 to protest the continued presence of the statue, chanting “Tear it down!” Numerous groups and public officials have called for the removal of Silent Sam, among them U.S. Rep. David Price, D-N.C., former Chancellor James Moeser and Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger.

Attorney Hampton Dellinger, representing the UNC Black Law Students Association, sent a letter to Chancellor Carol Folt and UNC system President Margaret Spellings stating that he may file a federal lawsuit if the statue is not removed.

Silent Sam, dedicated in 1913, pays tribute to students who left school to fight in the Civil War.

Cliff Bellamy: 919-419-6744, @CliffBellamy1

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