Barry Saunders

Don’t take down Silent Sam – give him a friend

“I am,” Union General William T. Sherman declared during the Civil War, “tired and sick of war.”

He’d likely also be tired and sick of talking about the damned flag that many people mistakenly think is emblematic of the war.

Just between you and me, the flag over which so many seem willing to go to war again is not the one under which rebels fighting for the Confederacy fought. The provenance of the current flag that’s got emotions boiling goes back only to the 1960s, when it appeared that the United States might finally, begrudgingly be fixing to live up to its creed that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator blah blah blah, and some people didn’t like that.

President Obama said it best regarding the stars and bars: it belongs in a museum, but not at the South Carolina State House grounds.

Retired East Carolina University professor Donald Collins, who has written extensively about the Civil War, came up with the perfect solution to controversies such as that surrounding the Confederate “Silent Sam” memorial on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.

“I have always argued for compromise,” Collins said. “Years ago, when controversy arose about the Confederate monument on the Pitt County courthouse grounds, I argued for leaving it in place and adding there, or in some satisfactory place, a statue of a soldier from one of the state’s black regiments.”

Right on.

Silent Saleem

Instead of removing Sam from his prominent position in Chapel Hill – despite its central location, I’ll bet my red, black and green “Free Huey” fold-up Afro pick from 1968 that fewer than half of the students on campus pay the dude any nevermind – why not heed Collins’ suggestion and erect a second statue of someone from the winning side of the war?

Soul Brother Silent Saleem – relax: that name, Swahili for “peaceful,” isn’t carved into stone yet – could stand sentry next to Sam in case the silent one ever decides to step down from his pedestal and try to refight the war. Saleem could remind him, “Say, homes. Don’t forget what I did to you the first time.”

Unlike the monochromatic Sam, Soul Brother Saleem could be resplendently rendered holding a rifle – just like Sam – in one hand, clutching the Emancipation Proclamation in the other and wearing a red, black and green liberation dashiki over his Union uniform. Sticking from the back pocket of said uniform would be a copy of Jet magazine from the week of April 9, 1865 – the week Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered.

Remembering history

A reader named Sonya, who said she’s been a fan of mine for 20 years, said she refused to even read the recent column in which I argued that the Southern monuments to Confederate soldiers and bigots should remain. Removing them, I argued with unimpeachable forethought, would remove visible reminders of the Civil War, its horrors and what it was fought over, I told her.

That’s what history books are for, she said.

EXCEPT that many history books are un-writing and re-writing history, leaving us with a generation of young people who know not, who know not that they know not and who don’t care. The state of Texas recently approved new history textbooks that barely mention slavery, which may be why a recently aired TV interview with several Texas Tech students who were asked “Who won the Civil War?” yielded responses ranging from “Ummm” to “The one in 1965?” to “Which Civil War?” to “Who was even in it?”

Oy. The philosopher Santayana warned that those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it. How can we remember it, though, if we destroy all references to it merely because some people are offended?

That’s why we need to stick that flag in a museum but leave standing statues of Silent Sam and monuments to his Confederate cohorts. If their presence offends our sensibilities, good.

They should.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com

  Comments