North Carolina

The Silent Sam debate yields emotional, soul-searching reactions from the public

The rise and fall of Silent Sam

Silent Sam has stood on UNC-Chapel Hill's McCorkle Place for 105 years. On Monday August 20, 2018, it was brought down by protesters.
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Silent Sam has stood on UNC-Chapel Hill's McCorkle Place for 105 years. On Monday August 20, 2018, it was brought down by protesters.

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt said the university has received thousands of responses from students, faculty, alumni and the public about what should be done with the toppled Silent Sam Confederate statue.

Those ideas will be made public at some point, she said, adding that the issue is clearly important to many people.

“One of the takeaways for me was how personal this is for people,” she said. “There’s a lot of emotion in the things people say and you have to really think about that. ... I’m pretty moved by the extent to which people really took that very seriously.”

Some of the responses were lengthy and some were written in the middle of the night, she said.

“There was a lot of soul searching,” she added. “People were trying to enter into the idea of what would the various options be, and I think, a lot of recognition that it could feel like we’re in a rock and a hard place ... about the fact that no one idea is going to satisfy everybody.”

The campus Board of Trustees held its regular meeting Thursday, including a closed-door session that stretched more than three hours. Part of that was dedicated to a security matter. Trustees have said campus safety is their top priority when it comes to recommending a plan for the statue’s future location.

Trustee Haywood Cochrane said the campus is grateful that the UNC Board of Governors has given the trustees and Folt a little more time to recommend a solution about where to place the statue. The original deadline was Thursday; the new deadline is Dec. 3.

“Now we have time to evaluate the options, the information, particularly relative to security,” he said Thursday.

Supporters of Silent Sam arrived at the monument's base on Saturday, September 8, 2018. They were met with a counter-protest organized as a potluck and canned food drive. Supporters were escorted out, and several arrests were made afterwards.

The ultimate decision is likely to be up to the Board of Governors, though it is possible the university would have to involve the legislature or state historical commission, depending on the recommendation.

The 105-year-old Confederate statue was pulled down by protesters Aug. 20. Ever since, university officials and others have debated what to do with the fallen monument, which has been the site of protests and tense clashes among groups and police.

A survey of faculty and staff in the College of Arts & Sciences showed that a plurality, 37 percent, would like to see the statue moved off campus to a museum or historic site.

Student leaders held forums and gathered feedback with a software program and a survey last month. They gave a summary of 500 student responses to Folt.

The summary said “students felt that the administration cared more for the opinions of donors and legislators than of their students” and were concerned about “logistical hurdles,” including a state law that bars the alteration of historic objects of remembrance.

According to the student document, about half of respondents wanted the statue relocated to an off-campus museum or battlefield, though some suggested places on or near campus, such as Wilson Library, Carolina Hall or the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery.

Two people on opposite sides of the Silent Sam issue - UNC student Tarik Woods and Sons of Confederate Veterans member Bill Starnes - sit down to discuss their views on the controversial Confederate statue.

Another 20 percent want the statue repurposed, perhaps rededicated with a new plaque and other elements that would explain the context of the statue, including its toppling. About 15 percent suggested Silent Sam be replaced with statues of people with an important connection to UNC, such as the late basketball coach Dean Smith or the first African American students who enrolled at the university.

The remaining respondents represented a variety of views that were not contained in the student report.

Values expressed by the students, according to the report, included having an honest acknowledgment of the university’s past and crafting a solution that keeps students safe, “as defined by how it impacts the frequency and intensity of protests on campus.”

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559; @janestancill

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Protesters toppled Silent Sam, the Confederate statue on UNC-Chapel Hill's campus, on Monday after a demonstration in support of a graduate student who faces criminal and honor court charges for throwing red ink and blood on the statue in April.