I studied history at a college with a Confederate soldier monument during the biggest progressive social upheaval since the 1960’s. I know just about every single way that old boy can be interpreted.
What those idealistic college kids and older antagonizers recently did in Chapel Hill will not fix racism, redeem the school of historical wrongs, or even do much to erase history. It was immature and will ultimately be a failure.
The history Silent Sam represents is flawed, but it belongs to all of us and is important. Knocking him down did not make you a better person or end the problems you perceive.
Why? Hundreds will rise in his place, and they’ll be flesh and blood, and loud. Not silent.
It seems like racial, religious, economic, and lifestyle politics are pulling our country apart. This hectic episode will further alienate the liberal University of North Carolina student body and faculty from the conservative state government and its residents when unity is needed most.
If the privileged protesters think they hold a received enlightenment that all of the honkeys with battle flag memorabilia don’t, then they failed to consider the sensitivity of the oppressed party. It is also ironic that some wore masks to disguise themselves, violating a law once aimed at the KKK. I hope the John Brown banner-wavers were being dumb, and didn’t commit vandalism to edge us toward another Unpleasantness.
Our state will now enter into battle over where to store Carr’s veteran and his friends from Union Square in Raleigh. If things turn out like I expect and the Confederate monuments end up at Bentonville Battleground or an indoor museum, we will be left with little physical disruption and a lot of social damage.
I am a descendant of Confederate soldiers and I am often thankful that William P. Rierson had children before marching off to war. He and another grandfather never came home, and still lie in unmarked Virginia graves. Thinking about that actually pains me, and as a history lover I will always be devoted to preserving their memory.
William P. Rierson served under Col. James T. Morehead, an UNC alumnus from a family of generous university benefactors. Silent Sam is far from the only local symbol of the Confederate past, as rebel generals, congressmen, and sympathizers are memorialized across the ghostly grounds. Attending the school of slaveholding Confederate leaders as a descendent of their poorer followers, called Tar Heels, was a reflective experience.
Going to UNC during the Silent Sam trouble was in fact enlightening for this Southerner. It was critically important that I live among progressives for four years to truly understand both sides of Civil War commemoration. I cannot perfectly empathize with people of color who felt oppressed by Silent Sam’s presence on campus, but it is only right that I try to understand.
My wish as I watch the aftermath of Silent Sam’s toppling is that all sides of this controversy can learn to think and feel from a different perspective. Respect must be given to defenders of Confederate heritage, those who felt like second-class citizens under those watchful bronze eyes, and everyone in between.
Today’s Tar Heels need to consciously build understanding with one another for civilized community to survive this event, as it cuts to the core of a racial and historical identity divide. Unfortunately, I doubt many good feelings can remain between an emboldened progressive bubble and an enraged army of heritage defenders.
If this symbolic fight becomes more violent, even the vandals may come to regret it.
Will Rierson graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2018 with a degree from the media and journalism school.