The rise and fall of Silent Sam
The UNC Board of Governors announced this week that the school and our state will have to wait until at least May to learn the fate of Silent Sam. The Board granted a two-month extension to a committee tasked with coming up with a plan for the toppled Confederate statute, a delay that was met with curiosity — and at least a little suspicion.
The biggest concern: May’s meeting will arrive after students leave the Chapel Hill campus for summer break. Is the board stalling until the campus is more empty before announcing the unpleasant news that Sam will return?
It’s possible. But it’s also important to note that the delay was requested by a Board of Trustees committee that had been appointed to address the statue controversy. That committee came up with a proposal in December, since rejected, that a new campus building be built to house the statue and provide historical context for it. It’s entirely possible the committee is trying to come up with a similar solution that involves moving the statue away from its original spot. Or, perhaps not.
It’s time to end the suspense. The Board of Governors should announce now that Silent Sam will not be reappearing on UNC’s campus, and that it will offer details about its new home at a later time.
Already, the uncertainty is creating a safety issue on campus. Pro-monument groups, who still have hope the statue might return, continue to hold demonstrations on campus. Last month, groups on both sides of the debate clashed over two plaques that memorialized a black UNC student, James Cates, who was murdered by a white supremacist group in 1970. The clashes will continue until the school is allowed to finally and firmly move past the debate.
That decision should be simple. Silent Sam, when he was standing, brought pain to members of the UNC community. That pain was and is more profound than any intellectual argument for preserving history or remembering all the warts in our past. Let’s be clear: No one needs a statue to help recall the racist parts of our history, and no one should want a monument to that racism to be buffed and polished and prominent on the North Carolina’s flagship campus.
We appreciate the debate about whether it was right for students and activists to vandalize public property and topple the statue last fall. But now that Sam is down, putting him back up would be more than just a reset, more than simply standing a monument back on a pedestal. It would be an explicit dismissal of the hurt the statue brings, and a tacit approval of the hateful message it carries.
It also would be met with fierce opposition once again, regardless of whether students are on campus in May. Those students will return, of course, as will the furor, the debate and the stain those bring to the school and our state. Let’s move on, now.