News: CJ Exclusives

After more than a century in Chapel Hill, Silent Sam has many tales to tell

Onlookers view the base of "Silent Sam" Aug. 20, 2018, the day after protesters removed the Confederate monument from its post at UNC-Chapel Hill. (CJ photo by Don Carrington)
Onlookers view the base of "Silent Sam" Aug. 20, 2018, the day after protesters removed the Confederate monument from its post at UNC-Chapel Hill. (CJ photo by Don Carrington)

Silent Sam, UNC-Chapel Hill’s monument to students who fought and died for the Confederacy, and the object of many quarrels, was toppled Monday night in a historic protest that caps decades of controversy and vandalism — leaving many to question the future of similar memorials around the state.

The statue, torn down Aug. 20 by a crowd of 250, has been the object of harsh criticism and staunch support over time since its construction in 1913. Dubbed “Silent Sam” in 1954, the monument first was known as “The Soldiers Monument” and the “Confederate Memorial.”

Given the voracious push to “Silence Sam,” the university should have seen this coming, said Andy Taylor, a political science professor at N.C. State University. But given state law and sticky political turf, “Everybody was pointing fingers at everybody else in terms of who should make decisions about the monument’s future.”

Over the past year, UNC’s flagship university spent $390,000 to secure the area around Silent Sam, reported the Raleigh News and Observer after receiving financial statements from UNC officials.

Sam dominated higher education headlines in recent years, but he is no stranger to dispute — and is just one figure in a larger group.

North Carolina has “more monuments honoring the Civil War than any other historical events, with five Civil War monuments for every World War I monument,” states a 2016 report from the UNC law school.

Most of these monuments were built between 1890 and 1930. Many are on public property. In courthouses. In town squares. In graveyards.

On university campuses.

Opinions about the fate of such statues is largely split, and it’s up to the North Carolina Historical Commission to recommend what to do with them. While the 11-member body prepares to do so at an Aug. 22 meeting, look back at Silent Sam — at where he’s been, how he’s impacted UNC, and why he’s been pulled illegally from his pedestal.  

Portions of this outline courtesy of materials from the University of North Carolina.

Silent Sam: A Timeline

June 2, 1913

Monument is dedicated on commencement day. Confederate veteran Julian Carr praises the Confederate army’s “saving the very life of the Anglo Saxon race in the South,” recalling horse-whipping a “negro wench” for insulting a white woman on Franklin Street.

“Julian Carr was always a kind of Sarah Palin maverick figure within this hegemony.”  — Gary Freeze, historian, professor of history and American cultural studies at Catawba College

May 23, 1940

Students against the United States’ involvement in World War II hold a peace rally and plant white crosses — which later are set ablaze — around Silent Sam.

May 3, 1942

A Daily Tar Heel report says the statue may be scrapped for the war effort, but no such action is taken.

Feb. 12, 1954

The Daily Tar Heel dubs the monument “Silent Sam” for the first time.

“In my day as an undergraduate, there was little or no attention to monuments. So far as I know they, and certainly not Silent Sam, were not associated with race or racism. Segregation was, of course, topical; and many of us were active in advocating and dismantling of Jim Crow laws and forms of discrimination and prejudice that animated them.”

— Edwin Yoder, journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner, UNC Chapel Hill graduate, class of 1956

September 24, 1954

Silent Sam’s base is defaced with black paint, and a beer bottle is attached to his rifle the night before a football game. Campus workers say they clean paint from the monument “after every darn home game,” the Daily Tar Heel reports.

March 1965

A letter to the editors of The Daily Tar Heel pushes discussion about the monument’s symbolism — and whether it should be removed.

April 8, 1968

Silent Sam is vandalized after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Later, students clean the statue and decorate it with Confederate flags, which later are removed at the request of the university.

“Ever since I came to UNC in 1969 there has been grumbling in some circles about the statue, but it didn’t amount to protest and the racial emphasis is relatively new. What I used to hear was more complaint along the lines of “still fighting the Civil War.” — John Shelton Reed, sociologist, author, emeritus professor at UNC-Chapel Hill

Nov. 19, 1971

The Black Student Movement and Afro-American Society of Chapel Hill High School gather to protest Silent Sam in memory of James Cates, a black man murdered by members of a white motorcycle gang on Nov. 20, 1970, and William Murphy, a black man shot and killed by a highway patrolman Aug. 6, 1971.

March 1981

Silent Sam is vandalized during the NCAA men’s basketball finals.

April 1986

The statue is temporarily removed from the monument and shipped to Cincinnati for professional cleaning and restoration, which costs $8,600. Bronze specialists Eleftherios and Mercene Karkadoulias repaired cracks, removed green oxidation, and gave the statue a protective wax coating. The statue is put back in place six months later.

May 1, 1992

Students from the Black Student Movement march on Silent Sam. Chancellor Paul Hardin speaks to the group.

April 2003

A letter to The Daily Tar Heel by Dr. Gerald Horne comparing Silent Sam to statues of Saddam Hussein being toppled in Iraq prompts discussion of the meaning of Silent Sam and whether it should be removed from campus.

Aug. 7, 2011

The Real Silent Sam, a community organization to “create honest public dialogue and provoke critical thought surrounding the monuments and buildings in Chapel Hill and Carrboro,” is founded.

September 2011

Real Silent Sam Movement unveils a mock plaque on the side of the monument explaining its racist history.

Jan. 22, 2013

In recognition of Silent Sam’s centennial and the launch of Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina, Wilson Library hosts a lecture by history professor Fitz Brundage and doctoral student Adam Domby about the monument’s history. Records and photos related to the history of Silent Sam are displayed

Feb. 9, 2015

The Dialectic and Philanthropic Joint Senate debates removal of Silent Sam, deciding against it.

July 5, 2015

In the wake of racial protests near St. Louis, Missouri, the base of the statue is spray painted with the words “black lives matter,” “KKK,” and “murderer.”

July 23, 2015

Gov. Pat McCrory signs a bill prohibiting towns, universities, and public agencies from moving or removing “objects of remembrance” related to “an event, person or military service that is part of North Carolina’s history” without a recommendation from the N.C. Historical Commission and permission of the General Assembly. The century-old commission “is charged with setting policy for the state’s identification, collection, management, preservation, interpretation and programming related to manuscripts and other records, historical and archaeological artifacts, and historic sites and properties held by most institutions located within the department.” The law rouses protests from Democrats who believe localities should have control over the fate of Confederate monuments.

“One of the great hallmarks of North Carolina since 1900 has been the use of commissions with members from all the different sections of the state to forge a consensus for civic acts and responsibilities. To allow localities to take whatever path they want is to negate the true spirit of our civic checks and balances.” — Freeze

Oct. 12, 2015

On University Day, students and activists hold a rally at the statue, then march to Memorial Hall where they interrupt a speech by Chancellor Carol Folt, chanting “tear it down, or we shut you down.”

Oct. 25, 2015

A group called “Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County” rallies on campus in support of Silent Sam. Protesters carry Confederate flags. Counter-protests ensue.

Nov. 19, 2015

A coalition of student activist groups presents a list of demands to UNC Chapel Hill administrators, the UNC system, and the N.C. General Assembly. One of the demands requires “the removal of the racist Confederate monument Silent Sam and ALL confederate monuments on campuses in the UNC System.”

August 2017 – August 2018

Violent demonstrations by white supremacists in Charlottesville bring renewed attention to Confederate monuments in North Carolina. Durham protesters tear down a monument in front of the county courthouse. Concern over Silent Sam heightens. UNC Students and community members hold a rally demanding removal. Students begin a sit-in at the statue. In following months, activists continue protests.

“Maybe it is time that we recognized that to many of our citizens, rightly or wrongly, the symbols of the Confederacy don’t stand for freedom and self-determination, or for a heritage of sacrifice and honor and duty, or even for hell-raising, good-timing, don’t-tread-on-me rebelry, but for white supremacy, plain and simple. Given that, they’re entitled to their objections. Maybe we ought to get government out of the act and let those who value the Confederate heritage celebrate it privately. But Silent Sam is a different matter. Like the Vietnam Memorial, he doesn’t honor a cause; rather, he honors some brave men who died in one.”  — Reed

May 30, 2018

Democratic legislators introduce a bill that would move Confederate monuments to an indoor location for the purpose of educating the public about the “bitter racial struggle that continues to burden our country.”

Aug. 20, 2018

A crowd of 250 gathers at Peace and Justice Plaza outside the post office on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. The rally, “Until They All Fall,” supports Maya Little, a graduate student facing honor court charges for an April protest in which she poured red paint and her own blood on Silent Sam. Around 9:20 p.m., the statue is topped from its base.

“We are a nation of laws — and mob rule and the intentional destruction of public property will not be tolerated.” — UNC President Margaret Spellings and UNC Board of Governors Chair Harry Smith.

“The governor understands that many people are frustrated by the pace of change and he shares their frustration, but violent destruction of public property has no place in our communities.” — Gov. Roy Cooper’s office

Aug. 21, 2018

Members of the General Assembly release varying statements on Silent Sam’s destruction. House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, condemn the defacement of public property in separate news releases.

Others focus their ire on the state’s reticence to deal with Sam more quickly.

“It is past time for Silent Sam to be moved from a place of honor on the campus of the University of the People. It is unfortunate state legislators chose not to hear and pass the bill we filed earlier this year to move the monument to an indoor site where it would stand as a reminder of the bitter racial struggle that continues to burden our country.”

— Sen. Valerie Foushee, D-Chatham, Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, Rep. Greg Meyer, D-Durham

  • civilwar 12

    Extreme force should have been used against those extremist anarchists and any caught should be jailed and made to pay damages. Student anarchists should be kicked out of school and the statue immediately put back out!

    • Junius Daniel

      Forgive me, Caesar, but, you fathom not what has occurred…

      The Progressive Scalawags of our state, in the 1950s and 60s, decided to usurp our state by irrevocably aligning it with Alien Interests; and, to achieve their craven ends, they selected a very very clever plan of financially embedding The NCAA so thoroughly into our state, that we, like an old Red Oak Tree heavily straddled and moribund-grown under a tremendous Wysteria or Trumpet Vine, could never ever pull away from their grasp.

      That occurred as our bans against aliens being in our schools, and or teaching in our schools were struck down in New England Yankee Federal Courts.

      The time to head off this process was then, but, our daddies, unlike their great-granddaddies, took the easy way out, back then, and went along.

      And so it has been that ‘our school system’ has been a fully coordinated system of Tarheel
      Destruction, operating fully in our midst and with our very own purloined money.

    • Junius Daniel

      When I was child, Caesar, Chapel Hill was already with Mao Tse Tung and Lenin.

      They just minded their Ps & Qs because they were afraid of Virgil Griffin’s Klan.

      Now that Griffin, and his likes, are gone, these Alien Invaders fear nothing anymore, and they well know that the vast majority of our politicians have not enough spine to stomach wrestling with them.

      Just look at the picture of the police looking on, over a fallen Silent Sam – as if they could not figure out what to do!

      It’s no accident – but, the result of decades of inner rot, to which, sadly, many Tarheels like to proudly refer to as, ‘Higher Education’.

  • bobby poon

    We have to wipe out school names, street names, and fort names redolent of the late Confederacy. And not just the Confederacy. The American slavocracy was large; it was powerful. Among its members: George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, with their large monuments and even larger legacies. What makes Robert E. Lee a likelier target than the father of our country?
    This business of digging up the dead and exhibiting their shortcomings has no predictable end. Today’s heroes and heroines become fair game for great-grandkids: topics for future ridicule and disrespect. Seldom in our history has the counsel to look before you leap seemed more relevant, or more ignored, than right now.
    What about the democrats great hero, FDR, he put in concentration camps Japanese during WW11, and turned back Jews on ships in New York harbor escaping certain death camps. FDR has a massive Statue and park in DC. Should it come down now.

    • ProudlyUnaffiliated

      This is a road map for the cultural destruction that the left (Democratic party) is on right now. A remake of Sherman’s march to the sea, if you will.

      • Junius Daniel

        The Soul of The Scarlet Knights of Reconstruction Era North Carolina is rising in the land, Dear Proudly, and will visit upon them something not unakin to that which they seek to visit upon us.

  • ProudlyUnaffiliated

    What is regrettably left out of this otherwise excellent article (and by default the timeline of major events) surrounding the memorial is the genuine human experience and joy that generations of students, staff, faculty, and visitors felt when they walked by Silent Sam. This happened daily for over 100 years. Silent Sam is iconic, historical, pleasing to the eye and stands guard over one of the first (first?) public universities in the nation. Silent Sam is, in effect, a true symbol of UNC-Chapel Hill and is much more famous and revered than some silly looking Ram mascot. The long-standing joke is that Silent Sam would only fire his rifle when a virgin walked by. This brought laughs and smiles to all.

    This is the main reason Silent Sam was torn down. All the other reasons are BS to stoke manufactured outrage. Silent Sam was a positive representation of human history and an honor to the university. The miscreants and nihilists could not bear it so it had to be toppled by the force of rope around the neck. Silent Sam was lynched by a mob of self-hating Democrats.

    • frosty888

      Personally, and somewhat tongue in cheek, I think it is the result of a total failure of the people who run and teach at the university. Shutting down UNC Chapel Hill until the managment and staff can be reorganized would not be out of place. (a fantasy I know) But my poor opinion of the people of the UNC system has once again been lowered.

      Liberal teaching seems to be, basically, if you advance the liberal aganda or are of a PC group law and morality do not apply. This will not end well, unless your name happens to be Nicolas Maduro, Fidel Castro or Joseph Stalin. But you have to have some grasp on history to see that I suppose.

      • Junius Daniel

        No, Frosty – the failure is of Tarheels to insist on a class of politicians who would govern for the benefit of Tarheels, and NOT The New England Yankee United States and their Corporate-Globalist usurpers.

        The ‘UNC School System’ is merely a symptom OF that.

        • frosty888

          Have to start somewhere. Perhaps when the next bond referendum comes around for UNC and gets voted down they might see some light. But that happend some years ago the UNC bond was voted down, so next time they put the vote in with the comunity colleges bond to get their money.

  • Junius Daniel

    There is a battle for North Carolina – between True Tarheels, who love their kith and kin, and those who are living here, but, alien to us, and or their allies – those Native Tarheels who have been trained by an academick media system to detest their own kind and be Scalawags.

    It’s an unfair match, however, this because those who want to destroy North Carolina, and make it over in their image, know exactly what they are doing and why, whilst many True Tarheels are loathe to accept that such a thing is actually going on, and refuse to countenance what other True Tarheels, not in denial, have to say.

    This is why I, a True Tarheel, who is not in denial, am so very very indebted to Antifa, Black Lives Matter, and, indeed, all those unaffiliated students who, at the behest of their Scalawag and Alien Marxist professors, did what they did to Silent Sam.

    These folks, The Alien Invaders, have made it plain, and will continue to make it plain to my fellow True Tarheels, all in varying shades of denial, that they are reserving a future for North Carolina without North Carolinians.

    Though it is a painful process to undergo, I say : May The Good Lord bless all the efforts of our Alien Invaders, until every True Tarheel awakens to the fact that The New England Yankee United States of America has absolutely zero regard for us, and, that so, we must seek a separate path – or suffer a genocide, already well underway, to be completed upon us.

  • EHerring

    Why are there more Civil War statues than those for other wars? Look at the casualty numbers. They represent the pain of others who lost loved ones. The 1st Amendment doesn’t exist to promote anarchy and the destruction of the property of others. There is no moral justification for roaming mobs destroying everything that offends them. This line in the article is telling, “a memorial to UNC students who died in the Civil War.” If honoring Civil War soldiers is to be banned because they are offended, then we can no longer honor any fallen soldier for there will always be those who object to any war. What will they destroy next? The Vietnam Merorial in D.C.? These young Marxists, knowing it isn’t cool to spit on today’s soldiers, are figuratively spitting on past soldiers. They haven’t the patriotism to enlist and risk their lives fighting real evil. Instead, they wage a coward’s war against statues that can’t fight back. Perhaps they should notice that we honor and respect the Vietnam veterans today, not the protesters who rioted on campuses in the 1960s.