The University of North Carolina Board of Trustees voted on Monday to re-erect Silent Sam, the toppled Confederate monument on their flagship campus in Chapel Hill.
Chancellor Carol Folt said it was the board’s “preference to move it to an off-campus site,” but that the current realities of the legal system would not allow for it, according a live-stream of the Trustees meeting. The board published its final report following the meeting. Per a North Carolina law passed by the GOP-dominated North Carolina General Assembly in the wake of the 2015 Charleston church shooting, only the N.C. Historical Commission can decide whether a monument can be moved, and the new spot must be in a place of similar prominence.
Following Folt’s first speech, UNC lawyer Mark Merritt said that the new location would likely be placed in an indoor location. That “indoor location” is going to be a brand new center constructed on campus, Folt said, which will cost an estimated $5.3 million and include a classroom and traveling exhibitions.
There was no commentary from Folt or Merritt that directly mentioned the history of white supremacy that engulfs Silent Sam. That was left to the board’s only present black member, William Keyes—a conservative that worked for South Africa’s former apartheid government and who once called Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress a “terrorist organization.” After Folt and Merritt announced the plan, Keyes spoke at length about the “unmitigated evil of slavery” and the cause for anger surrounding the statue. Keyes concluded that he thinks the presented plan was “the best thing we can do under the law.”
Keyes voted in favor of the plan; only UNC student body president Savannah Putnam and board member Allie Ray McCullen voted against the proposal.
The controversy surrounding the statue erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1913 dates back decades, with physical protests against the statue’s central presence on campus beginning in the 1960s. More recently, a dedication speech made by white supremacist Julian Carr—one of the leaders of the infamous 1898 racist fear-mongering political campaign—was uncovered, in which Carr bragged about whipping a “negro wench” close by where the statue’s foundation still stands.
The penultimate act of defiance coming this past April, when grad student Maya Little poured a mixture of red paint and blood on the base. Little’s protest was covered heavily by the local and national media, and the issue refused to subside over the summer break. And finally, on August 20, a mass of UNC students and Chapel Hill residents tore down Silent Sam, sparking fights with far-right agitators trying to protect it and leading to the arrests of those involved with bringing down the Civil War monument.
Much of the criticism meant for Silent Sam has bled over into criticism of the UNC leadership. Folt, soon-to-be-former President Margaret Spellings, and the UNC Board of Governors (whose members were appointed by that same uber-conservative state legislature) spent the past year wrapped up in internal spats over what should happen to the statue, despite the UNC chief of police advising them that the statue represented an “uniquely dangerous situation,” according to NC Policy Watch.
The decision was a convenient and costly cop-out, one that played by all the rules set by the racists and assholes in the state legislature and rejected the voices of students and people of color. As Folt and Merritt made clear, the board was far more concerned with not doing something illegal rather than not doing something immoral. In bowing to an unjust law set by North Carolina conservatives and Confederate sympathizers, the UNC trustees predictably passed on making any sort of noble stand or recommendation.
The end result: In 2019—106 years after Silent Sam first stood tall above campus and just five decades after North Carolina slowly began to legally view all its citizens as equals—the oldest public university in the South and the entire United States will erect a Confederate monument and a surrounding building. All in the name of legality and reasonableness.