Chapel Hill leaders on Friday sent UNC Chancellor Carol Folt a letter once again asking the university to find a new home for Silent Sam, the Confederate monument toppled from its base last month
“Prominent placement of the Silent Sam monument at McCorkle Place in downtown Chapel Hill is an offense to the entire Chapel Hill community, including African-American students, faculty members, university employees, local residents, and business persons who call Chapel Hill home, as well as to returning alumni and the countless fans and tourists who visit our Town every year,” read the letter from Mayor Pam Hemminger and the Town Council.
“To them and to us, Silent Sam and its roots in pro-slavery, pro-segregation ideology represent the antithesis of the high value that UNC and the Town of Chapel Hill place on being a welcoming and inclusive place for all.”
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Friday’s letter is at least the second time Hemminger has asked Folt to relocate the statue, erected in 1913 on the McCorkle Place quad a few steps from Franklin Street.
In August 2017, shortly after activists toppled a Confederate statue in downtown Durham, Hemminger asked Folt to petition the state’s historical commission to place the monument in storage, saying “the statue presents a danger to students on campus and the Chapel Hill community.”
Folt had said then that she supported moving the monument but cited a 2015 law that prohibits removing historic statues from public property.
Last month, after 26 arrests and four protests, Folt seemed more inclined to act.
“Silent Sam has a place in our history and on our campus where its history can be taught,” she said in a statement, “but not at the front door of a safe, welcoming, proudly public research university.”
The university has not said where the statue, which fell largely intact after activists pulled it down Aug. 20, is currently being stored.
In a news release, town officials said its latest letter is meant to be part of the community dialogue that Folt has initiated on alternatives for Silent Sam that she plans to present to the UNC System Board of Governors by Nov. 15.
The letter signed by Hemminger and the entire council was copied to Harry Smith Jr., chairman of the UNC System Board of Governors; UNC System President Margaret Spellings; and Haywood D. Cochrane, Jr., chairman of the UNC-CH Board of Trustees, among others.
Smith, at least, has indicated he is not ready to predict next steps.
In a phone interview after Folt’s most recent statement he said he was “very disappointed” with the chancellor’s “hasty release with such strong statements on her opinion on the relocation.”
The town’s letter
Here is the complete letter:
September 21, 2018
Dear Chancellor Folt,
As the proud home of the country’s oldest and finest public university, the Town of Chapel Hill greatly values the long-established relationships with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) that allow us to work together, as neighbors and community partners, to address important issues and be the outstanding college town that we all want.
Critical to the success of our collaboration has always been our shared commitment to being a safe, welcoming and inclusive place for everyone who lives, works, learns, plays and visits in Chapel Hill.
With these goals in mind, we are writing to reaffirm Chapel Hill’s earlier request for the expeditious and permanent relocation of the Silent Sam Confederate monument from its location in McCorkle Place to a more contextually appropriate place that is safer for public viewing.
We make this request for the following reasons:
1. Prominent placement of the Silent Sam monument at McCorkle Place in downtown Chapel Hill is an offense to the entire Chapel Hill community, including African-American students, faculty members, university employees, local residents, and business persons who call Chapel Hill home, as well as to returning alumni and the countless fans and tourists who visit our Town every year. To them and to us, Silent Sam and its roots in pro-slavery, pro-segregation ideology represent the antithesis of the high value that UNC and the Town of Chapel Hill place on being a welcoming and inclusive place for all.
2. Strong emotions surrounding Silent Sam have existed for many years, including escalating tensions and frequent clashes that have occurred this year. These emotions demonstrate the very clear and present danger to public safety that will continue to intensify if the statue is returned to McCorkle Place or another prominent outdoor campus location.
3. Downtown businesses and the Town’s reputation as one of the best small towns in the nation have suffered as a result of the tensions and outbreaks of violence. These impacts were outlined in a letter from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce and Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership (August 30, 2018). Continued unrest will be increasingly detrimental to the vitality and vibrancy of downtown Chapel Hill that we have worked so hard together to achieve.
4. The financial and other resource costs to the University and the Town associated with the statue and these on-going events are placing an unsustainable strain on our mutual aid agreement for public safety that is vitally important to keep students and the entire community safe during downtown student celebrations and other events throughout the school year.
We appreciate your leadership in working with the UNC Board of Governors to open the door for UNC to explore alternatives for the Silent Sam monument and believe our request aligns with the objectives spelled out in their August 28th resolution.
Thank you for your consideration of our request and for encouraging students and the broader community to use this process as an opportunity to “reflect upon and learn from (that) history” in order “move toward peace and healing.”
Staff writer Jane Stancill contributed to this story.