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UNC Will Give Away Confederate Statue

But don't expect the controversy to end any time soon.

December 2, 2019
 
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Statue after it was torn down

The University of North Carolina Board of Governors approved a settlement Wednesday to the controversy over Silent Sam, a monument to Confederate soldiers that stood on the Chapel Hill campus from 1913 until last year, when protesters pulled it down.

Since August 2018, when protesters toppled the monument, what to do with it has been a major political issue in North Carolina. Largely, those at Chapel Hill have favored a solution that would leave Silent Sam off the Chapel Hill campus. Those with ties to Confederate memorial groups have demanded that the statue be returned to the campus at Chapel Hill and protected from demonstrators.

The North Carolina Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) sued Chapel Hill for failing the restore the statue, setting up the settlement, under which:

  • SCV is declared the owner of Silent Sam.
  • The university will turn over the statue to SCV.
  • SCV will maintain the statue "outside any of the 14 counties currently containing a UNC System constituent institution."
  • Using $2.5 million in nonstate funds, the university "will fund a charitable trust to be held independently by a nonparty trustee … the proceeds of which may only be used for certain limited expenses related to the care and preservation of the monument, including potentially a facility to house and display the monument."

“The safety and security concerns expressed by students, faculty and staff are genuine, and we believe this consent judgment not only addresses those concerns but does what is best for the university, and the university community in full compliance with North Carolina law,” said Jim Holmes, a member of the UNC Board of Governors.

The UNC Black Congress tweeted that "Interim Chancellor says the issue has now been 'resolved.' Yet students are still facing legal penalization for standing up against white supremacy and the institution has still failed to ever fully interrogate their complicity with white supremacy on this campus." (A few students were charged after the statue was taken down.)

Another tweet from the congress said, "That is up to the countless student and community members whose lives have been seriously wounded by the statue. Whose voices have been consistently spoken over and silenced."

The settlement was announced the day before Thanksgiving, making it hard to survey student opinion.

The History

The history of Silent Sam -- with some calling for it to be preserved and others saying it shouldn't be -- has made it difficult to arrive at a solution that would attract support from all sides.

A year ago, Chapel Hill officials announced a plan to return Silent Sam to campus. The statue would have been housed in a new building that would cost more than $5 million to construct and $800,000 a year to maintain.

But amid widespread criticism of the plan as a way to honor white supremacy, the UNC Board of Governors rejected it.

Kevin M. Kruse, a historian at Princeton University, tweeted last fall about the early history of Silent Sam. He wrote that those endorsing a plan to keep Silent Sam anywhere on campus should read aloud the dedication speech given in 1913 for the statue, in which one of those celebrating the statue said that he had "horse-whipped a Negro wench" in defense of "the Anglo-Saxon race."

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