Opinion

Former UNC-Chapel Hill student body presidents stand with Silent Sam protesters

The rise and fall of Silent Sam

Silent Sam has stood on UNC-Chapel Hill's McCorkle Place for 105 years. On Monday August 20, 2018, it was brought down by protesters.
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Silent Sam has stood on UNC-Chapel Hill's McCorkle Place for 105 years. On Monday August 20, 2018, it was brought down by protesters.

Carolina students, faculty, and staff have a long and rich history of fighting injustice through direct action.

The fight for racial integration, the Speaker Ban, the food worker strike, the fight for a free-standing Black Cultural Center, the housekeepers’ movement, and the removal of the name “Saunders” from Carolina Hall were all movements where students confronted injustice head on — and changed the history of our university for the better.

With the removal of Silent Sam, this generation of Carolina students accomplished what many before them were unable to do, despite many years of diplomacy, organizing and protest.

Although some say the statue simply commemorated alumni who died fighting for the Confederacy, Silent Sam was dedicated almost 50 years after the end of the Civil War by a Carolina trustee to honor those who “saved the very life of the Anglo-Saxon race in the South” and celebrated the “pleasing duty” of beating a “negro wench” just yards away from where the statue was erected.

As many historians have noted, a wave of statues like this were erected across the South during the Jim Crow era as a show of strength designed to perpetuate white supremacy. Is it any wonder that for students of color, Silent Sam represented a stifling daily reminder of hatred and oppression?

As alumni, donors, and members of the UNC community, we are proud of the students, faculty, and staff past and present who have worked tirelessly to secure the removal of Silent Sam. There is no place on our campus for white supremacists or their symbols of hate.

In 2015, the General Assembly enacted a law preventing the removal of Confederate statues without approval from the NC Historical Commission. The General Assembly passed this law amid nationwide racial tensions, only weeks after the racially motivated killings of nine black church goers in South Carolina and at a time when other government officials were removing similar vestiges of hatred around the country. The 2015 law was enacted for reasons as thinly veiled as those given for keeping Silent Sam and worked toward the same purpose: to exert dominance and to disenfranchise those who may have had the ability to remove the statue.

We are indeed a nation of laws. However, Thomas Jefferson, said that “If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so.” Acts of civil disobedience are often, by their very nature, unlawful. Acts of civil disobedience are often unacceptable to those in positions of power, dangerous to those participating in such protests, and incomprehensible to those resistant to change. We stand against unjust laws that disproportionately affect students of color.

We are proud to stand with the students who, despite what some view as controversial methods, finally removed a symbol of hatred that has haunted generations of Carolina students, faculty, staff, and members of the community. May it never return.

As with injustices that past Carolina students have tackled, today’s students have created an opportunity to once again change the arc of our university’s history for the better — this time with dialogue and action that honors a more complete portrayal of our history and reconciles a more truthful representation of our complicated past. Hark the sound!

The undersigned Student Body President Emeritus,

Robert S. Powell, Jr., 1966-67; Robert M. Travis, 1967-68; S. Alan Albright, 1969-70; Carlisle Ford Runge, 1973-74; Kevin Monroe, 1983-84; Bill Hildebolt, 1990-91; Matthew Heyd, 1991-92; George Battle, III, 1994-95; Cal Cunningham, 1995-96; Reyna Walters-Morgan, 1998-99; Brad Matthews, 2000-01; Justin Young, M.D., 2001-02; Jennifer Daum, 2002-03; Matt Tepper, 2003-04; JJ Raynor, 2008-09; Jasmin Jones, 2009-10; Hogan Medlin, 2010-11; Mary Cooper, 2011-12; Will Leimenstoll, 2012-13; Bradley Opere, 2016-17; and Elizabeth Adkins, 2017-18

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