Jim Jenkins

Raze the monuments, and raise a new one

A look back at the history of UNC’s Silent Sam

The Confederate statue on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus known as 'Silent Sam' was a point of friction and protest long before becoming part of the national conversation. Here's a look at the monument's history.
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The Confederate statue on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus known as 'Silent Sam' was a point of friction and protest long before becoming part of the national conversation. Here's a look at the monument's history.

Yes, that again.

In the latest debate over the future – or the lack of one – for Silent Sam, the monument to the UNC Chapel Hill students who fought for the Confederacy, the most compelling argument for bringing the statue down has come from the words of Julian Carr, a businessman who was a Confederate veteran himself and who spoke at the dedication of the statue in 1913. Yes, this gift from the Daughters of the Confederacy (others also contributed and the university picked up the shortfall) wasn’t put up in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, but many years later, when the South was fighting stubbornly against equal rights for minorities. Jim Crow and white supremacy were some of the sentiments behind the explosion of such statues.

Anyway, Carr waxed on that day with lot of predictable images of Stonewall Jackson’s last words, of references to the gallant boys in gray, praising them as saviors of the “Anglo-Saxon race in the South.” (That means white people, by the way.) Carr called to mind every weary romantic phrase he could think of that was later to appear – though with an unhappy ending – in “Gone With the Wind” and a thousand other post-Civil War-era stories and plays and movies – at least those for Southern audiences.

He also told a little personal story. Which went like this: “I trust I may be pardoned for one allusion, howbeit it is rather personal. One hundred yards from where we stand, less than ninety days perhaps after my return from Appomatox, I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern Lady, and then rushed for protection to these University buildings where was stationed a garrison of 100 Federal soldiers. I performed the pleasing duty in the immediate presence of the entire garrison, and for thirty nights afterwards slept with a double-barrel shot gun under my head.”

This has been making the rounds since the latest demonstration around Silent Sam, which is one focus of many demonstrations against Confederate monuments following the Charlottesville tragedy. Gov. Roy Cooper was bold and right in offering UNC-Chapel Hill officials a reason to remove Silent Sam, though he drew some criticism.

The Carr speech – yes, yes, it was 1913, but that’s no inoculation against bigotry – has galvanized some who want Confederate memorials removed from the State Capitol grounds and other public places.

This great-great-grandson (yours truly) of a Confederate soldier mortally wounded in the Railroad Cut at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, agrees, for what it’s worth, which is no doubt not much to the pro-Rebel monument folks.

But let’s ask the most basic question about these monuments one more time: If you were an African-American, how could you look at a monument of any kind to the Confederacy, or its veterans or even its dead, and not see in such monuments a celebration of people who fought to keep your ancestors in bondage, who wanted to protect the slavery which had torn families apart, meant torture and death and aimed to keep the descendants of those people in chains forever?

The monuments should be removed from public sites, and not moved to battlegrounds or anywhere else, a lousy idea. For they are not history. They are statues and other monuments, some cast in mass quantities, most with no historic significance of their own. (I’ll take that back if you can find one carved by Rodin or Michelangelo.) They’re not history.

But something productive could be done. Have all such monuments in North Carolina melted or whatever can be done to save the materials, and then commission a North Carolina artist to create a unity monument, representing the uniting of all races, that could be copied for all the courthouses in the state. It would not have to be a sculpture of traditional realism, just one that conveyed that spirit of bringing people and races together, even in a modern form. Raleigh’s Thomas Sayre would be the perfect choice for the task, as he possesses the sense of history and artistic genius to do what needs to be done.

The Civil War, fought for all the wrong reasons, resulted in over 600,000 deaths. There was nothing romantic about it, and we need to stop confusing an appreciation for the individual gallantry and character of kinfolk with the misguided glorification of a Lost Cause.

Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at jjenkins@newsobserver.com

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