Pub­lic di­vided into two camps on fate of Silent Sam

The Herald-Sun (Sunday) - - Local - BY JANE STANCILL js­tan­[email protected]­sob­

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 10 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. “Just 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


UNC-Chapel Hill Chan­cel­lor Carol Folt, who asked pub­lic to email her on sug­ges­tions for Silent Sam

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 AfricanAmer­i­cans 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.

“It could be a fo­rum to pur­sue our elu­sive na­tional con­ver­sa­tion about race,” wrote Sereno.

Next week, the UNC sys­tem’s Board of Gov­er­nors will con­sider the UNC cam­pus trustees’ pro­posal for the his­tory and ed­u­ca­tion cen­ter.

JU­LIA WALL [email protected]­sob­

The Silent Sam Con­fed­er­ate statue was top­pled after 105 years on the UNC cam­pus by pro­test­ers on Aug. 20. The de­bate has be­gun over what to do with the mon­u­ment now.

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