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Aug 19 2017
by Melissa Cordell

UNC Students React to Confederate Statue of Silent Sam Still Standing

By Melissa Cordell - Aug 19 2017

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill prides itself on its diversity but has a Confederate statue on McCorkle Place minority students are forced to walk by on a daily basis. 

Silent Sam is no stranger to controversy. In 2015, the statue had "Black Lives Matter" and "murderer" spray painted on it. Shortly after, a group came together in a "Confederate rally" to protect the statue and its place at the university. 

Recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia have thrown all of the Confederate statues into public scrutiny once again. In Durham, North Carolina, approximately 15 miles from UNC-Chapel Hill, protestors pulled down a Confederate statue on August 14 and allegedly scared off the KKK march that was going to happen on August 18. Duke University removed their Robert E. Lee statue after vandalism on August 19

After seeing the video from Durham, students at UNC-Chapel Hill hope to see Silent Sam finally come down. 

"Given the circumstances of what black and brown people have went through in this country and what that statue represents, I feel like it should be removed," said Emily Chavis, a junior at UNC majoring in American Indian and Indigenous Studies. "It is a symbol of hatred towards non-white people and as a Native person, I am personally offended that it has been allowed on campus for this long."

"Also, our university was built on the lands of the ancestors of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, which should be remembered when talking about statues that sit on that land that are offensive to Native people," she said. 

Tarik Woods, a sophomore majoring in English and chair of the UNC Rules and Judiciary Committee, is using his voice in the Carolina community to enact real change. "I don't think anything will be done in the fall, but I am adamantly working to put together dialogue groups to get out what everyone is feeling about the statue being on campus. I think that would be the first step in anything happening and hopeful I can get that going come this fall."

Woods is hoping to work with every student group from "Greek, to BSM, to honor societies and etc. This is just to get the ball rolling, and we will spread the word so that anyone interested will be able to come and share their thoughts," he said. "Currently I am not directly in collaboration with any student group but will be seeking assistance in spreading the word through student org[anizations]."

When asked if he thought Silent Sam might come down in the same fashion as the one in Durham, with students toppling it over, he said, "All I'll say is that if the students are not listened to when we try to be civil, you cannot expect civility forever. And I'll leave it there. However I would prefer Silent Sam be relocated to a museum of American history."

There is currently a petition going around for the removal of the statue by someone who walks by the statue going to work everyday. The Mayor of Chapel Hill, Pam Hemminger, issued a public letter to Chancellor Folt requesting the statue be removed. Governor Roy Cooper has called for the removal of all statues in North Carolina, which has some obstacles because it's currently illegal in the state to do so.

"I think it should have been removed a long while ago," said Jemal Abdulhadi, a junior majoring in economics. "I think it is an obvious monument that represents the rooted hate in the country's past, and the fact it sits as the face of our university is a sign of disregard and disrespect for the minority students on this campus specifically." 

"I think especially with all that's going on in the world, UNC can take a step in the right direction and set the tone for other academic establishments to genuinely strive for inclusion and progressiveness," he said. "A feasible way to go forward with it is to somehow open it up to a survey for UNC students and act upon it from there, which from my understanding would undoubtedly do away with the statue. Something else the university should and could have easily done is leave the monument, but create a plaque describing the context of it all and why it is wrong."

Silent Sam is far from the only controversial declaration on campus. In 2015, Saunders Hall was renamed to Carolina Hall when Saunders was exposed as an alleged leader of the Klu Klux Klan. The UNC Civil Rights Center, which works pro bono to help in cases focused on "education, housing and community development, economic justice and voting rights," all issues that affect mainly the minority community, is being threatened with elimination of their litigation privileges. 

On August 13, the statue was covered in black cloth and discussed at a gathering around the monument to honor Heather Heyer, a victim at Charlottesville. 

Melissa Cordell
Melissa Cordell

"I am a proud American, and I respect the American flag. The Confederate flag and confederate monuments are sentiments to honor the war fought against America. As an American I do not support that cause," said Jasmine Jackson, a sophomore majoring in political science and peace, war & defense, who is a Political Action Co-Chair for the UNC Black Student Movement. "I am also an African American, and I do not support a cause that fought against my rights to be considered a citizen and my rights to be considered a human."

"The confederate soldiers wanted to continue to enslave my people. Silent Sam represents the soldiers who wanted to continue to oppress people that look like me. This statue doesn't represent Carolina values, and I hope Chancellor Folt takes up the 16 year freeze on renaming other campus buildings since this issue is clearly determent to student's experience and safety at Carolina," she said. "The events surrounding Charlottesville can definitely happen on UNC's campus, which creates feelings of fear for students. I believe Governor Roy Cooper has the right plan about removing these statues and creating a museum for historians. As far as BSM PAC [Political Action Committee], we will be taking actions to address students concerns surrounding these monuments by writing a letter to Chancellor Folt. We want to talk with Chancellor Folt about her plans to prevent events like Charlottesville from occurring at this campus."

Tyger McSwain is a sophomore majoring in philosphy and political science and is Political Action Co-Chair with Jackson. "I want the University to remove Sam because I believe that Silent Sam attempts to purify the Confederacy and make it seem like they were fighting for virtuous cause. It ignores the idea of the death, the enslavement, and the terror that the confederacy stood for. Some students, particularly of color, find Silent Sam intimidating and makes them feel unwelcome," he said. "What BSM can do this year is to continue to put pressure on our school administrators and public office holders we need to make sure our concerns continue to be heard."

Joanna Peters Denny, UNC-Chapel Hill spokesperson, told Fresh U via email, "State law prohibits removal and strictly limits relocation of objects of remembrance, of which the Confederate Monument is one. Our focus at this time is on the efforts of Chancellor Folt’s Task Force on UNC-Chapel Hill History to develop a comprehensive interpretive strategy for McCorkle Place to tell the full and accurate story of Carolina’s history. The Confederate Monument and the Unsung Founders Memorial are among landmarks in that quad for which the task force will recommend a mix of physical and virtual curation."

Lead Image Credit: Melissa Cordell

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Melissa Cordell - University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Melissa Cordell is a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, majoring in Political Science and Peace, War & Defense, with a Women's Studies minor. She loves working on campaigns, activism and writing. Follow her on Instagram @meldelissacor and Twitter @MM_Cordell!

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