The Silent Sam deal might encourage copycats.
The Nov. 27 agreement between the UNC Board of Governors and the N.C. chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, transferring the Confederate monument from the university to the SCV, seems “squirrelly,” said former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr.
Orr told Carolina Journal the settlement could set a precedent for similar cases involving Confederate monuments on public property. Durham attorney Greg Doucette, a former non-voting student member of the BOG, said the settlement may not set a legal precedent. But it could serve as a template for future showdowns over the monuments.
“In practice, I have no doubt the SCV and [United Daughters of the Confederacy] will use this judgment as leverage to extort taxpayer funds in the future,” said Doucette, an alumnus of N.C. State University and NCCU School of Law. “Municipal governments are notoriously gun-shy when it comes to litigation, and will be more inclined to settle than to litigate.”
(Editor’s note: Links to relevant documents are at the end of this story.)
Giving the SCV a $2.5-million trust fund to take care of and house the statue is “absurd.” Even though the money will come from “non-state funds” — including interest earned from the university’s investment endowment, “It’s a huge breach of the fiduciary duty they owe to taxpayers and students,” Doucette said.
Silent Sam was erected in 1913 on the Chapel Hill campus to honor a request from the UDC to commemorate UNC students who were killed during the Civil War.
On social media, Doucette has compared SCV leaders to Klansmen and told CJ “there’s something unseemly about a public institution honoring literal traitors who levied war on the United States.”
But most North Carolinians prefer to keep monuments like Silent Sam in place. An Elon University Poll released in late November shows 65% of North Carolina residents want Confederate monuments to remain on government property.
Protesters toppled Silent Sam from his pedestal on McCorkle Place in August 2018. The removal violated a 2015 law requiring the N.C. Historical Commission to approve relocation of any historical markers on monuments on public property. They can be removed temporarily for repair or renovation, or moved to another location on the original property if it has “similar prominence, honor, visibility, availability, and access.” But monuments can’t be taken down without the commission’s backing.
Nearly five months after the statue went down, former UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt ordered Silent Sam’s pedestal removed from campus as she was resigning her post. Sam’s remains had been kept in an undisclosed location.
In the meantime, the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees proposed restoring the monument to a new “historic center” at the other end of the campus — a plan rejected by the system’s board — and a group of BOG members discussed alternative fates for the statue.
Until late November, almost nothing transpired in public. Then, a confusing blur of activity.
- Randy Ramsey, who became chairman of the BOG in October, signed a settlement agreement on behalf of the board Friday, Nov. 22, turning over Silent Sam to the Sons of Confederate Veterans and creating the trust fund. The SCV presumably had no legal claim to the statue at the time. No lawsuit had been filed.
- The next day, the UDC gave Silent Sam to the SCV, court documents say.
- Monday, Nov. 25, the BOG filed notice of a special meeting at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
- Tuesday, Nov. 26, UNC System Interim President Dr. Bill Roper signed the deal Ramsey had agreed to giving the statue to the SCV.
- The SCV filed a lawsuit in Superior Court Wednesday, time-stamped 11:11 a.m., claiming it was the legal owner of Silent Sam and demanding damages.
- One minute later, the BOG filed a response denying any wrongdoing.
- Five minutes after that, at 11:17 a.m., the settlement was final, signed by Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour.
- CJ learned that day the SCV had taken possession of the monument.
The $2.5-million trust fund is for the monument’s “preservation and benefit.” The SCV will be able to buy property and build a structure — local commander Kevin Stone called it a “new Division headquarters” — to display the monument publicly.
Stone didn’t respond to a CJ request for comment.
The structure can’t be placed in any of the 14 counties that hosts a UNC System campus.
Another attorney familiar with the situation suggested the settlement could be challenged or enjoined in court, citing the secrecy and timing of the negotiations. He said Silent Sam should have been returned to its original site, as the 2015 monument protection law requires.
If not McCorkle Place, the lawyer said a better location for Silent Sam would be at the Raleigh headquarters of the UDC … shouting distance from the Executive Mansion.
But now the statue is in the hands of the SCV, seemingly at odds with the 2015 law. Decisions earlier this year by the city of Winston-Salem and the Chatham County Board of Commissioners to remove Confederate monuments are also hard to square with the law.
In a lengthy thread on Twitter (compiled here), Doucette argued the entire settlement was questionable. For one thing, roughly two-thirds of the money raised in 1913 to pay for the monument was done by UNC President Francis Preston Venable as a university employee. So UDC might never have owned the statue.
“The fact the [Silent Sam] settlement was worked out so far ahead of time behind closed doors strongly suggests the BOG knew what they were doing was wrong, and they deliberately timed everything to come out before the four-day Thanksgiving holiday because they figured fewer people would notice,” Doucette said.
Legal filings in the Silent Sam settlement
• Complaint from Sons of Confederate Veterans
• Response from UNC Board of Governors
• Settlement judgment signed by Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour
Email from Kevin Stone to Sons of Confederate Veterans describing negotiations and settlement