Durham County

Congressman says Silent Sam should come down

A look back at the history of UNC’s Silent Sam

The Confederate statue on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus known as 'Silent Sam' was a point of friction and protest long before becoming part of the national conversation. Here's a look at the monument's history.
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The Confederate statue on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus known as 'Silent Sam' was a point of friction and protest long before becoming part of the national conversation. Here's a look at the monument's history.

U.S. Rep. David Price has joined a number of elected officials in North Carolina calling for the removal of the Silent Sam statue from the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.

Price, a Democrat who represents Orange County and parts of Durham and Wake counties, said the Confederate memorial doesn’t deserve to be glorified in a public space.

“Take it down and put it in a museum. That’s my view,” he said in an interview with The Herald-Sun.

“You can’t choose your history, but you can certainly choose what history you revere and what history you honor. This is not a history that we should be putting on a pedestal.”

The Silent Sam statue, originally erected in 1913, has attracted a wave of attention from activists following a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., earlier this month.

After a Confederate statue was toppled in Durham, many activists called for Silent Sam to become the next Confederate symbol to be removed, and last week hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the monument to demand its removal.

Before that rally, N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper told the university it could take the Confederate memorial down – a message that came in response to a letter from Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger asking UNC-CH to seek permission to take the statue down.

A 2015 state law forbids the romoval of monuments from public property without approval from a state historic commission, but Cooper cited a part of the law that allows for statues to be removed if they create public safety concerns.

Tempers flare and emotions run high in August during a rally and march calling for the removal of the Confederate statue known as 'Silent Sam' on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill.

University officials replied they didn’t believe Cooper’s analysis was correct, and instead beefed up security around the monument before the planned protest.

Price, a UNC alumnus, acknowledged disagreement on whether the law allows for the statue’s removal because of public safety, but he said that shouldn’t be the main reason for taking it down.

“I’ll grant to (UNC-CH Chancellor) Carol Folt and the governor that there is some ambiguity about the actual wording of the state statute,” he said. “But the governor is saying these monuments should come down, and I don’t think he is making that case solely in terms of public safety.

“It’s not the sole basis on which I would decide this.”

It’s a view of his that Price concedes has changed in recent years.

In 2015, Price told the radio station WCHL that he believed Confederate flags should be brought down from public spaces, before adding a caveat that the issue of monuments isn’t as simple.

“I think my view and other people’s views have evolved some on this,” he said. “Maybe I should have known before, but I wasn’t fully aware until more recent years about the circumstances under which Silent Sam was erected or the statue in Durham. ... They were the product of a resurgence of white supremacy and kind of romanticizing of the Confederate cause.”

It’s also significant, Price said, that the main champions of these statues now are white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan.

“I think that matters, too,” he said. “I think these monuments should be taken down and ... become a historical artifiact. That is very different from having them in your courthouse square.”

Price also said that the decision to take down these statues shouldn’t be made in Raleigh, but in the communities where the statues are located.

“The legislature’s idea that you remove the ability of local jurisdictions to decide these things is a bad idea,” he said. “I don’t doubt that there will be difficult decisions (about monuments going forward). But I don’t know who these guys in Raleigh think they are for preempting those decisions for every community in North Carolina.”

A small group of Confederate flag-waving counterprotesters tried to interrupt an anti-Silent Sam vigil at UNC Chapel Hill on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017.

Zachery Eanes: 919-419-6684, @zeanes