Orange County

UNC Chapel Hill puts fence around Silent Sam Confederate statue before Tuesday rally

UNC campus police fence in Silent Sam before a rally tonight

In preparation for a rally in the evening, UNC-Chapel Hill placed two barricades around the Confederate statue known as Silent Sam early Tuesday morning, Aug. 22. Campus police shifted the fence to a more linear shape and a history professor, Will
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In preparation for a rally in the evening, UNC-Chapel Hill placed two barricades around the Confederate statue known as Silent Sam early Tuesday morning, Aug. 22. Campus police shifted the fence to a more linear shape and a history professor, Will

UNC Chapel Hill officials have put a fence around the Silent Sam statue.

A smaller inner fence now encircles the monument to Confederate soldiers with a second larger, teardrop-shaped fence encircling the statue’s surroundings.

In a letter to Gov. Roy Cooper, UNC leaders asked for his help with security on campus on the eve of a planned protest Tuesday.

The university officials told Cooper of “significant safety and security threats” at UNC-CH because of the Silent Sam Confederate memorial, and have asked him to convene the state historical commission to consider what to do with the statue.

A few hundred demonstrators gathered Sunday at the Silent Sam statue, a memorial to Confederate soldiers, on the University of North Carolina’s Chapel Hill campus violent clashes between white supremacists and counter protesters in Charlottesville

Responding late Monday night, Cooper wrote that his administration has stood “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the university and local law enforcement since violence erupted and drew national attention to the University of Virginia home town, Charlottesville, Va.

Further, Cooper said university officials had the power to remove the statue on their own if they fear an imminent threat.

“Other university leaders have taken decisive actions in recent days,” Cooper wrote, apparently referring to Duke University’s removal of its Robert E. Lee statue in the wee hours of Saturday morning. “If our University leaders believe there is real risk to public safety, the law allows them to take immediate measures.”

UNC officials echoed concerns of Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger, who wrote to Folt last week saying the statue “presents a clear and present danger” to both the campus and the town. Hemminger asked Folt to request the N.C. Historical Commission to remove Silent Sam.

The history of Sam

Silent Sam has had a long and controversial life.

Sam stands at the front UNC-CH quad facing Franklin Street.

Controversies surrounded Sam throughout the 20th Century, evidenced by senior student P.W. Carlton’s 1959 reflection in The Daily Tar Heel on his time as a college student.

“"Dear old Sam, the object of student wrath and indignity for better than 100 years, stands stolidly upon his tarnished pedestal, scrupulously refusing to the meet the eyes of passers by, unruffled by his new coats of blue or green or red paint and by the lingerie displays which frequently dorn his rifle barrel,” Carlton wrote.

On May 15, 1908, The UNC Board of Trustees approved a United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) request to erect “a handsome and suitable monument on the grounds of our State University, in memory of the Chapel Hill boys, who left college, 1861-1865 and joined our Southern Army in defense of our State."

The following year, UNC President Francis Venable expressed his hope that Silent Sam would be completed by 1911, and in 1910 sculptor John Wilson began designing Sam.

Silent Sam was modeled on 16-year-old Harold Langlois, from Boston.

A plan called for UDC to finance one-third of the statue's design, build and install it while alumni and donors paid for the rest.

UNC Library archives record Venable as having said in 1910 that UNC-CH would not pay for the memorial.

The statue was not completed by 1911 as Venable had hoped and not until 1913 did Wilson complete his casting of the statue.

And on June 2, 1913, Silent Sam was dedicated on commencement day with speeches from the then N.C. Governor Locke Craig and Confederate Civil War veteran Shakespeare Carr.

Carr praised the Confederate Army as the saviors “of the Anglo Saxon race in the South” and recalled "horse-whipp[ing] a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds" for offending a Caucasian woman on Franklin Street.

UNC Library archives note, when fund raising efforts fell short, UNC-CH covered the remaining $500 bill still owed for Sam's sculpting and set-up.

A little friendly vandalism

Over the years, Silent Sam has been the target of athlete rivalry tomfoolery, shenanigans and devilment.

In addition to burning the initials “N.C.S.” into the lawn of Morehead Planetarium, the Sept. 28, 1954, edition of The Daily Tar Heel reported that N.C. State students painted the statue's base black and stuck a beer bottle on Silent Sam's rifle.

UNC Library archives note that a UNC grounds keeper told a passer-by, “We have to do this after every darn home game.”

The word “Duke” was written on Silent Sam in 1958.

In 1981 the statue was again vandalized, this time during the NCCA basketball finals. Bobby Knight’s Indiana Men's Basketball team beat Dean Smith's Tar Heels in the championship game 63-50.

This is a developing story. Return for updates throughout the day.

Colin Warren-Hicks: 919-419-6636, @CWarrenHicks