CHAPEL HILL – Hardly anyone seems satisfied with a plan UNC-Chapel Hill officials unveiled Monday to move the Silent Sam Confederate memorial to a new history center the University has contemplated since 2015.1
But Chancellor Carol Folt and the University’s Board of Trustees have largely had their hands tied by a state law that places strict limits on moving historical monuments.
After an analysis by a security team led by a former assistant director of the FBI, Folt and the Board of Trustees made it clear they would prefer to move the Confederate monument off campus.
Given the likelihood of further and increasingly demonstrative protests, the security team concluded that if the University returned the statue to its original location, “it will literally be under siege.”2
But the law state legislators adopted in 2015 says a monument must be placed at a similar site in the same jurisdiction where it previously stood.3
“I have a preference to move it off campus, but like everyone here, I swore to obey the law,” Folt told reporters Monday.4
Plans for the history center began to develop in 2015 when the Board of Trustees voted to rename Saunders Hall – originally named for a purported Ku Klux Klan leader – as Carolina Hall.5
Officials decided then to research and share the University’s complicated history and relationship with slavery. Archivists have since compiled a growing record of the University’s early reliance on slave labor.6
University officials recommended Monday that the statue and its base be housed in the proposed $5.3 million University History and Education Center that they first envisioned in 2015. The site off Manning Drive in Odum Village is near parking and a planned light rail station. Officials describe the location as a growth area for the campus.
Officials said the statue and other artifacts from the University’s 225-year history that would be housed at the history center can serve as teaching tools for the many crises the University has weathered over those years. The center is projected to be completed in 2022.7
“We’re a university – we teach truth. And that’s history in all of its fullness,” said Folt. “It’s often complicated. The world’s much more complicated than we might like.”8
Folt and the trustees were asked by the Board of Governors that oversees the University of North Carolina System to come up with a plan for the monument’s future in time for the Board of Governors’ meeting next week. The NC Historical Commission would also have to approve the plan.9
No plan for the controversial statue’s future will make everyone happy, of course.
But campus officials are the most familiar with the constituencies and safety issues surrounding the monument. Folt and the trustees sought public input, received 5,000 suggestions and conducted a thorough review of 20 potential sites before recommending the monument be housed at the proposed history center.
Folt made it clear public safety was the number-one criterion for choosing a new site. And the law passed by the NC General Assembly made it clear that site must be on campus.
The Silent Sam issue has remained on the table and gone unaddressed for far, far too long. We need to put it behind us and redirect the monumental energy Silent Sam has consumed to educating our students.
2https://bot.unc.edu/files/2018/12/Final-Report.pdf, pp. 7-8; https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article222595190.html
3https://bot.unc.edu/files/2018/12/Final-Report.pdf, pp. 4-5.
7https://bot.unc.edu/files/2018/12/Final-Report.pdf, pp. 4-5.
9https://bot.unc.edu/files/2018/12/Final-Report.pdf, p. 3.