North Carolina

Who is Silent Sam? Here’s the background on the recently toppled Civil War monument.

The Silent Sam Confederate statue at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill campus, erected in 1913 in honor of UNC alumni who died in the Civil War, was toppled by protesters Monday night.

Here’s a look at the statue’s history, as provided by university archives, except where otherwise noted.

June 1, 1908: The United Daughters of the Confederacy gains UNC Board of Trustees approval to construct “a handsome and suitable monument on the grounds of our State University, in memory of the Chapel Hill boys, who left college, 1861-1865 and joined our Southern Army in defense of our State.”

June 2, 1913: The statue is dedicated, with speeches by Gov. Locke Craig and Confederate veteran and UNC trustee Julian Carr. An account of Carr’s speech in UNC’s online library says he “horse-whipped a negro wench” 100 yards from the site of the dedication, because “she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady.”

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May 23, 1940: The statue becomes the backdrop for a rally opposing America’s involvement in World War II, and retaliation by counter-protesters.

Feb. 23, 1954: The name “Silent Sam” is used for the first time by the student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel. The name resulted from sculptor John Wilson not giving the soldier a box of ammunition to go along with the rifle he carries.

March 1965: UNC student Al Ribak sends a letter to the editors of The Daily Tar Heel, sparking “discussion in the newspaper about the monument’s meaning and history, whether it is a racist symbol, and whether it should be removed from campus.”

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April 8, 1968: Out of reaction to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, Silent Sam is marked with graffiti. A day later, students clean the statue and decorate it with Confederate flags.

1971 and 1973: The Black Student Movement organizes protests and marches at Silent Sam in memory of James Cates, who was killed by members of a white motorcycle gang, and William Murphy, who was shot and killed by a North Carolina state trooper.

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1990s-early 2000s: Discussion on the meaning of Silent Sam and demonstrations around the statue continue.

April 11, 2003: Former UNC professor Gerald Horne wrote a letter to The Daily Tar Heel “comparing Silent Sam to statues of Saddam Hussein being toppled in Iraq.”

September 2011: A community organization called The Real Silent Sam Coalition unveils “a mock plaque on the monument’s side explaining its racist history.”

Feb. 9, 2015: UNC’s Dialectic and Philanthropic Joint Senate considers removing Silent Sam and decides it should not be removed. .

July 5, 2015: “Black lives matter,” “KKK” and “murderer” are spray painted onto the statue. “Black lives matter” is also painted onto several Civil War monuments in Raleigh and Durham that month, the Clayton News-Star reported.

July 23, 2015: Then-Gov. Pat McCrory signs a bill banning government agencies from removing any “object of remembrance” situated on public property that “commemorates an event, a person, or military service that is part of North Carolina’s history,” The News & Observer reported.

Aug. 12, 2017: The debate over Confederate monuments swells after white supremacist protests and counter protests turn violent in Charlottesville, Va., leaving one woman dead.

March 28, 2018: Plans to add historical context to Silent Sam’s site in UNC’s McCorkle Place quadrangle – including history markers and Bluetooth interactivity – are presented to the Board of Trustees, The News & Observer reported.

April 30, 2018: Silent Sam is defaced with red ink and blood from a protester, The News & Observer reported.

July 30, 2018: After leading his first UNC system Board of Governors meeting, Chairman Harry Smith cites the 2015 monuments law in announcing the board would not take action on the issue of Silent Sam, according to The News & Observer.

Aug. 20, 2018: Protesters use ropes to pull Silent Sam to the ground more than two hours after a rally began as a demonstration of support for the student who threw blood and ink on the statue in April, according to The N&O. The next day, a statement from UNC Chancellor Carol Folt calls the actions “unlawful and dangerous.”

“The monument has been divisive for years, and its presence has been a source of frustration for many people not only on our campus, but throughout the community,” Folt said in the statement.

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