UNC Center for Civil Rights Director Theodore M. Shaw Statement on Removal of Statue Known as “Silent Sam”

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On the night of August 20, protesters removed the statue known as “Silent Sam” from its pedestal on the campus of UNC Chapel Hill. Erected in 1913 with funds from the Daughters of the Confederacy, the statue was a monument to UNC alumni who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. At its dedication ceremony on June 2, 1913, Julian Carr spoke of their service to the Anglo Saxon race, and of how “One hundred yards from where we stand, less than ninety days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady, and then rushed for protection to these University buildings….”

The African American woman who was whipped by Carr found no sanctuary on UNC’s campus in 1865, and in dedicating the monument known as “Silent Sam,” Carr signaled that black people would find no sanctuary from white supremacy in Twentieth Century North Carolina. For one hundred five years the monument stood in a hallowed place on the campus of North Carolina’s flagship institution of higher education, and in 2015 the State legislature enacted a law protecting it from removal.

Those who brought down “Silent Sam” from his pedestal that night may have violated the law forbidding removal of statues and monuments. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights demonstrators of the 1950s and 1960s knew that there were just laws and unjust laws, and they were prepared to pay the price of violating unjust laws. As those who train new generations of students in law, we at the UNC Center for Civil Rights cannot advocate lawlessness, but we can teach about the traditions of resistance to unjust laws. We did not urge protesters to take the actions that brought down “Silent Sam,” but we do believe that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the State of North Carolina will be better for having “Silent Sam” removed from its place of honor on the campus. “Silent Sam” was never silent. For more than a century, to each new generation of Carolina students the monument shouted Julian Carr’s message of violent support for white supremacy and the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow segregation, memorialized by the Daughters of the Confederacy and long protected by their ideological heirs and descendants.

We hope that those empowered with how to react to the removal of “Silent Sam” will not attempt to restore the statue to a place of honor on the campus of UNC. This is a moment at which we can heal wounds and move forward. It would be a mistake to “gaslight” black North Carolinians and others who oppose the legacy of white supremacy by telling them they are wrong to describe this statue and its history for what it is, and for what it has always been. There may be a place somewhere for statues that tell stories honestly and in historical context, but this monument should not occupy a place or perform a task of honor.

This a moment, long overdue, to show some grace towards black North Carolinians by acknowledging that even as we recognize the complex history of our State and its many legacies, we will no longer embrace, protect, and honor the legacy of slavery, white supremacy, and racial hatred.

Theodore M. Shaw
Director, UNC Center for Civil Rights &
Julius L. Chambers Distinguished Professor of Law

Posted by Allen K. Buansi on Fri. September 7, 2018 9:36 AM
Categories: General
UNC School of Law | Van Hecke-Wettach Hall | 160 Ridge Road, CB #3380 | Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380 | 919.962.5106

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