Let me first say that I disagree, fundamentally, with all Confederate statues and monuments. They are offensive not only to minority groups who suffered the torture of slavery, but they are offensive to any patriotic American as they are hallmark memorials to traitors.
(This is going to be a long essay, folks, and there are no pictures. Sorry, not sorry.)
To get it out of the way, I’m going to just lay it out there that the Confederacy was an enemy nation of the United States. They were traitors to the Union who seceded to create their own nation state(s), and paramount in their reasons for secession was maintaining slavery. If you don’t believe me about the slavery thing and want to buy into the revisionist idea that secession was somehow about “maintaining states’ rights supreme to federal rights,” I invite and strongly encourage you to read the articles of secession from any one of the original Confederate states. Or some of the letters sent back and forth from the Confederate government, officials, generals, and other political and military figures.
In fact, I’ll give you the opening line of Virginia’s Ordinance of Secession, which clearly identifies the abolition of slavery as the primary injury to the Southern states:
The people of Virginia, in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in Convention, on the 25th day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eight-eight, having declared that the powers granted them under the said Constitution were derived from the people of the United States, and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression, and the Federal Government having perverted said powers, not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slaveholding States.
Or how about Georgia’s second sentence:
For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.
Not enough? Let’s look at the second sentence of Mississippi’s Ordinance of Secession:
Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world.
I could go on…
My point is that slavery was the primary driver of Southern secession, not this convoluted states’ rights argument you hear so much about by apologists today. Yes, their argument is that each state had the right to determine the status of slavery within that state, but it’s still about slavery! The “states’ rights” argument isn’t about policing or environmental protection, wildlife management or infrastructure planning. It’s a bullshit argument made up by modern apologists to obfuscate the issue, which was that the South seceded from the Union because they wanted to keep on keeping slaves.
Now, let’s move on…
Silent Sam is a monument to the Civil War’s Confederate soldiers. Like other “Silent Sentinels” statues of the time, it depicts a Confederate soldier without ammunition—thus the name “Silent” Sam—who cannot fire his gun, facing the North—the Union—ready to go to war. On its face, the very positioning of the statue is a taunt, a poke in the eye, to the United States!
The monument has stood on McCorkle Place, the main lawn of UNC’s Chapel Hill campus, since 1913, literally the first element to greet visitors from Franklin Street for more than one hundred years has been a monument to the Confederacy—which was, again, an enemy nation to the Union (aka The United States of America).
Its plaque reads:
To the sons of the University who entered into the War of 1861–65 in answer to the call of their country and whose lives taught the lesson of their Great Commander that duty is the sublimest word in the English language.
“Their country” was and should have been the United States, not the secessionist South (aka The Confederate States of America).
Setting aside, for a moment, the slavery argument, let’s take a look at this from a purely patriotic stance: Where else do you see monuments to defeated enemies within the victor’s country? No where. England, Russia, the USA, France, Spain, Belgium, etc all have exactly zero monuments to the NAZIs, Mussolini, or Hirohito. Why would they?
So then, why do we have monuments to Confederate generals and soldiers?
This isn’t about historical revisionism, we have plenty of memorials to the Civil War, WWI, and WWII, as well as the Korean War, Vietnam War, and even the Cold War dead. But we have a disproportionate memorialisation of the Confederacy. You can find a Confederate statue in almost every Southern State, multiple, in fact.
My point is, no one is trying to forget about the Civil War in the United States, it’s part of our history that is fundamental to understanding where we are today and how we got here. But there’s absolutely no excuse for memorialising Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, or their generals, commanders, soldiers, etc. They were traitors, by definition, to the United States of America and the ideals “for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.“
Secession was a traitorous act against the Union, no more so then than it would be today. How would you feel if Texas decided it was no longer part of the United States and was, once again, the Republic of Texas right now, today? Pretty indignant, I’d think. And with good reason! Texas is an integral part of our nation’s economy, history, and culture. For it to just decide one day to split off and do its own thing would be a huge blow to all of us. Southern Secession was, as it would be now, treason.
So where did this statue come from? Well, I’m glad you asked…
The United Daughters of the Confederacy
Silent Sam was erected in 1913 by the North Carolina chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy after a campaign to establish a Confederate monument at a Southern university in 1907. The group wasn’t founded until a solid 29 years after the end of the Civil War and has no realistic ties to any Confederate organisation other than family association. Today’s members are, of course, barely related to anyone who served or fought in the Civil War—those people are all dead.
It’s worth noting that, according to communications studies scholar W. Stuart Towns, the United Daughters of the Confederacy has a, if not the, leading role “in demanding textbooks for public schools that told the story of the war and the Confederacy from a definite Southern point of view”. He goes on to say that their work is one of the “essential elements [of] perpetuating Confederate mythology”. Keyword: mythology.
Filiopietistic organisations like the UDC sprang up everywhere across the post-Civil War South, but the UDC was instrumental in erecting and dedicating monuments and memorials to the Confederacy. Throughout the early 20th century (that’s the 1900s, folks, 40+ years after the Civil War ended), the United Daughters of the Confederacy was the key protagonist in moving Confederate Civil War memorials out of cemeteries and into the public town square.
Further, the UDC’s spin-off organisation, the Children of the Confederacy, indoctrinates children to the catechism of Confederate mythology. It teaches children “that Northerners did away with slavery because the climate was unsuitable, that they had no intention of ever paying the South for its slaves after abolition, that slaves in the South were faithful to their owners, who were caring and gentle people: cruel slave owners existed only in the North.” These lies are an affront to history, the primary stated cause of the UDC—historical preservation.
Further still, the United Daughters of the Confederacy—which is, remember, the organisation that erected Silent Sam at UNC Chapel Hill—were cheerleaders for the Klu Klux Klan. Throughout the Jim Crow era, the UDC venerated the Klan to an almost mythical status, becoming apologists for the Klan and its terrorist tactics to subjugate African Americans as well as preserving artefacts and symbology of the Klan. In fact, the United Daughters of the Confederacy actually erected a monument to the Klan in Concord, North Carolina—now, thankfully, no longer standing.
It is impossible, unrealistic, and irrational to separate these issues from one another. The United Daughters of the Confederacy, the UDC, is, was, and remains a white supremacist organisation and its mission is to enshrine icons of white supremacy across the nation. Its commitment to historical revisionism, to uplifting the “Southern perspective” is a plague on the truth, our history, and our national cohesion.
The “Solution” to Silent Sam
The proposed solution to the question of what to do with Silent Sam, now that it has been pulled down by UNC Chapel Hill students in 2018, is to re-erect the statue in a $5.3 million museum purpose built for housing the statue in Odum Village.
So, basically, they want to put the statue back up in a shrine a 15 minute walk from its original location, situated in one of the residence communities for students. Great.
The plan is actually four-fold:
- Part 1: Relocating the monument. We used detailed studies of public safety and security (with a panel of national security consultants), campus and broader community input, feasibility, and cost to evaluate over 20 options, focusing on those that best met the charge to be legal and safe.
- Part 2: Continuing and expanding efforts to add historical contextualization to campus. The Chancellor’s Task Force on UNC-Chapel Hill History has led this effort for three years. Many phases including restoring the Unsung Founders Memorial, fully contextualizing McCorkle Place, and creating digital historical materials.
- Part 3: Establishing a University History and Education Center. This Center is critical to our plan. It also has been a long-standing goal of ours and will satisfy the resolution passed by the UNC Board of Trustees in 2015 by creating a “public space to house a permanent collection of UNC’s history.” We will use the Center to help teach our full history to our students and the public.
- Part 4: Creating a new McCorkle Place Gateway. While not yet fully developed, this component of the plan calls for the creation of a commemorative space for reflection on our past, present and future. It will serve as the gateway to our campus, and will be located in the area currently occupied by the base of the monument.
This plan doesn’t address the overwhelming opposition to the statue being re-erected. From the faculty, staff, students, and broader community, Chancellor Folt has heard “extensive and heartfelt input […] including approximately 5,000 email responses” mostly in opposition to re-erection. But I also recognise and admit that the administration is hamstrung by current North Carolina law(s) and the heavily biased Board of Governors of the larger, state-wide University system. Still, I feel like this is a good hill to die on. Oppose Silent Sam’s re-erection at all costs, even if it means the Chancellor loses her job. To do anything less is a complicit act in support of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and their thinly-veiled white supremacist ideology.
There simply is no alternative.
Silent Sam is a monument to slave-loving traitors to the United States, hell-bent on the subjugation of African Americans, erected by a white supremacist organisation that once venerated the Klu Klux Klan well after the end of the Civil War. It has no place on the campus grounds of the University of the people—our nation’s first public University.
The secession of the Southern states was, and forever will be, about slavery. It was not about “states’ rights” or maintaining a more prosperous union. It was about maintaining the institution of and keeping slaves. Any monument to such an abhorrent, racist ideology is an affront to the very decency of our Republic.
- Towns, W. Stuart (2012). Enduring Legacy: Rhetoric and Ritual of the Lost Cause. University of Alabama Press. ISBN 9780817317522.
- Woodruff, Juliette (1985). “The Last of the Southern Belles”. Studies in Popular Culture. 8 (1): 63–70.