All that remained of Silent Sam is finally gone.
On Monday night, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill chancellor Carol Folt released a surprise statement informing the university that she will be stepping down come the end of the school year in May. Then, Folt dropped the bomb: The base and tablets that once held up the infamous Confederate statue were to be immediately removed from their spot on-campus, for what Folt cited in her statement as “a continuing threat both to the personal safety and well-being of our community and to our ability to provide a stable, productive educational environment.”
Within hours of the announcement, the base was lifted from its spot at the McCorkle Place quad by a construction crew. One supporter of the Confederate statue was detained after attempting to rush police and run toward the statue, which was then taken to an unnamed location, where it will be preserved until the university decides what it wants to do with Silent Sam. All that remains now are the brick steps that surrounded the statue’s base.
The decision by Folt comes after years of her stalling and actively skirting the issue of the statue, which was placed on the campus by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1913. It took a protest in April 2018 by grad student Maya Little to re-spark the movement that would eventually lead to Silent Sam’s toppling in August. In the time since it came down, all eyes were on Folt and the UNC leadership. Rather than call for the removal of the statue following the August protest, however, Folt and the Board of Trustees voted to return the statue to campus in December, along with a plan for a $5.3 million structure to house it in so as to prevent future demonstrations that might lead to its removal.
After intense outcry from students, faculty, and the townspeople of Chapel Hill—including a strike by the university’s TAs—the Board of Governors declined to move forward with the plans for the new structure in a vote two weeks later. The Board of Governors is now staring at a March 15 deadline to figure out just what the hell they plan to do with Silent Sam. Thanks to some sharp-thinking Republicans, North Carolina law technically prohibits the removal of such statues without the approval of the N.C. Historical Commission.
So, it’s very possible that Silent Sam will find its way back to campus sometime in 2019. But for now, for at least the next couple months, the folks who have been railing against the symbol of out-and-out white supremacy since the 1960s can take a breath and enjoy a small but meaningful victory.