North Carolina

Put Silent Sam back. Send it to a farm. Dump it in a hog lagoon. — UNC’s mail ran the gamut.

In the flood of the public email to UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt about what to do with Silent Sam, two opposite themes emerged.

People were adamant about their opinion, whatever it happened to be: Put the memorial statue back up, in accordance with state law, or ship the divisive artifact to a history museum, Civil War battlefield, cemetery, park or library.

Responding to a public records request from The News & Observer, the university on Wednesday and Thursday released almost 2,000 pages of emails received in September and October from taxpayers, students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents and donors. The emails reveal the emotional outpouring from people who care deeply about what happens to an eight-foot bronze statue that stood at UNC for 105 years until protesters ripped it down on Aug. 20.

Folt had requested ideas from the public about Silent Sam’s future location, setting up a dedicated email address to receive ideas. She got a deluge.

A sampling:

“Put the damn statue back, fire whoever was responsible for letting it be torn down, and kick out any students or faculty that were involved in the destruction of it,” wrote an unnamed writer. “Any questions?”

”There will NEVER be PEACE or SAFETY for your students and employees and it’s GONE FOREVER!!!!!” wrote Peter Grant. “It’s 2018 and black kids still must tolerate this level of insensitivity?!?!? YOU’RE DESPICABLE!!!!!”

“We want Silent Sam right back up on his pedestal on the quad, where he’s stood proudly on the campus for over 100 years,” wrote Dominic Corwin. “Do it, or you will not be pleased with the consequences.”

“You need to take the entire statue and mount down,” wrote Anthony Price. “It will always remind people of a bad time in history and stir up hatred on campus. I don’t want my children or any student hurt or killed over something that could be avoided!”

This week, the university announced a proposal to put Silent Sam in a history and education center at a remote edge of campus in a new, heavily secure $5.3 million building that would cost $800,000 to operate. Criticism was almost immediate, resulting in a large protest Monday night and statements from various student groups that wanted the statue located off campus.

For weeks, people have been emailing their thoughts to Folt, who said Monday: “These comments we have received have been incredibly powerful. Some of them have been so touching.”

The people talked about their Southern heritage, their fond memories of walking past the statue, their ancestors who fought in the Civil War. Parents expressed worries about their children at UNC amid tense and sometimes violent protests. Some taxpayers were angry at UNC police, blaming the university for the statue’s fall, and disgusted that protesters had not been sufficiently punished for vandalism. Others were ready to take action, withholding their donations if the university did not do what they wanted.

Some had their own designs on the statue.

Ted Leger wrote in the day after the monument was toppled. He wanted to put Silent Sam on his farm in Tannersville, Va. “We can work out the details,” he said. “I would love to turn my ten acres into a park that allow people to come and see the old confederate statues and monuments, if they desired. Why not start with Silent Sam.”

Eddie Small emailed that he was ready to write a check to end the university’s dilemma. “I will pick it up, move it, do everything myself.”

Some wanted UNC to just be rid of the statue in any way possible, giving it back to the Daughters of the Confederacy, melting it down for mini statues or commemorative coins for students or auctioning it off to the highest bidder. Some wanted the metal sculpted into a new monument. A few people suggested adding a companion statue depicting a Union soldier.

The solution, wrote alumnus Michael Williams, “should be to find the farthest and dimmest corner of the North Carolina Collection, stand it up there, throw a sheet over it, and hang a sign around its neck that says, ‘Please excuse our mess.’”

A Latin professor, Jim O’Hara, likened Silent Sam to “an open sore, a cancer, like mold in the attic or termites in the crawl space.”

An unnamed writer chimed in, perhaps joking: “Put it in one of the overflowing hog manure lagoons,” while another pointed out that Orange County waste and recycling center accepts scrap metal daily: “I have a truck and would be glad to provide transportation for your bulky item.”

A few folks wanted the soldier buried in the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery or in a glass case below ground at McCorkle Place, maybe as a way to prevent future vandalism.

Others felt the university had a solemn duty to display the statue and honor the UNC students lost in the Civil War all those years ago.

“Many people hold dear that memorial,” wrote Craig Bone, commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. “(J)ust think of all those young men who gave up their education to go fight in a terrible war and never return.”

Some who wrote to the university were less concerned with what to do with the statue than what to erect in its place.

Suggestions ran the gamut from the late Tar Heels basketball coach, Dean Smith, to former Sen. Sam Ervin to Michael Jordan to the late UNC president, Bill Friday. Several liked the idea of a new statue featuring both Coach Smith, who was instrumental in integration in Chapel Hill, and his former player Charlie Scott, the first black scholarship athlete at UNC.

Those who wanted Silent Sam in a museum were insistent that the statue be displayed with the context of its dedication in the Jim Crow era, when many Confederate statues were erected with white supremacist intentions. Emails suggested including the now-infamous speech by Julian Carr, in which he said he whipped a black woman at the same spot at the end of the war.

“I beg you to not return Silent Sam to the quad,” wrote Elizabeth Elsen. “Put him somewhere with context, somewhere you have to choose to go to, and know what you are going to see and read about.”

Some of those angry about the toppling suggested Folt should resign. “I am absolutely disgusted that you and the Chapel Hill police department allowed the destruction of the monument by an unruly mob of paid hooligans,” wrote John Flora.

Others were very sympathetic to Folt’s apparent no-win situation. Scott Weir suggested UNC require a mini course on university history, adding, “I wish you the best as you navigate this Sam thing. I do not envy you.”

Public opinion on the monument was about as polarized as any political issue these days, with those who want to keep Silent Sam just as adamant as those who want to jettison him.

While the museum backers largely wanted the statue to go to the N.C. Museum of History or museums in Washington, Richmond or Greensboro, some suggested just what Folt presented on Monday — a space on the Chapel Hill campus to educate people about the statue.

Julian Sereno, editor and publisher of Chatham County Line, wrote that UNC should create its own history museum, “and turn the publicity and controversy over Silent Sam into something positive and even enlightening.”

The context of Silent Sam’s beginnings could be displayed, he said, along with the story of African Americans who built the university and struggled during the Civil War and Jim Crow eras. The story could be carried through to integration of the university in the 1960s and the local luminaries who made strides in Civil Rights — Pauli Murray, Julius Chambers, Terry Sanford, Floyd McKissick and Dean Smith.

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Jane Stancill has reported on higher ed for The News & Observer for 20 years. She has won state and national awards for her coverage of education.
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