Faculty members in UNC-Chapel Hill's art and art history departments are calling for the Confederate monument known
as Silent Sam to be removed.
Twenty-two faculty members signed a letter sent today to Chancellor Carol Folt. Their message comes as students, some of whom staged a sit-in
around the statue to compel its removal, are calling for a boycott of UNC stores.
“The unacceptable version of history to which Silent Sam gives voice claims that those who fought for the Confederacy did so in the name of regional loyalty alone, rather than, as historians have long concluded, to preserve the institution of slavery as the core of the economy, society, and polity of the south,” the group writes. "Silent Sam is a monument to a systemic moral perversion, all the more insidious in proffering its meaning as subtext, rather than proclaiming it as viciously as many of its contemporary supporters."
Silent Sam has been a source of controversy since at least the 1960s, and protests calling for its removal have reignited in the wake of the deadly violence at white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and as protesters in Durham tore down a Confederate monument on Main Street. Silent Sam was dedicated in 1913 and stands high above a courtyard just off Franklin Street.
The faculty members say that as historians and artists, they “do not lightly” call for the removal of Silent Sam and monuments like it. But, they say, “whatever artistic merit the monument might claim (and most of us feel it is in fact
slight) does not justify its continued prominent placement in a position that calls, in the terms recently used by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, for veneration.”
Since an August 22 protest, in which hundreds of people rallied around the statue, students have camped out around the monument, staged noisy demonstrations, and marched while demanding its removal. With their gear cleared from around the statue, the group suspended their sit-in and has since called for a boycott, and some have threatened a lawsuit
Under a 2015 law, monuments on public property in North Carolina can't be removed or altered
without the permission of the N.C. Historical Commission, which is meeting Friday to discuss the issue. Governor Cooper had said UNC could remove the statue as a matter of public safety. But university officials have said
that exception to the law, which says a monument can be removed if “a building inspector or similar official” deems it a safety threat, doesn’t apply.
“Acknowledging that interpretations of the university's legal options may differ, we call on you, as a first step in the prompt removal of this objectionable object, to state publicly and unequivocally your position on the ideology and version of history with which it is associated,” the faculty group writes. “We also urge you in the strongest possible terms to work to ensure the health and safety of the students, faculty, and staff involved in the active protest movement that has arisen around the monument, and to work with the protesters to achieve the goal we all share.”