The “Silent Sam” statue at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill campus erected to memorialize Confederate soldiers has been torn down by protesters.
On Monday night, students protesting the statue and counter-protesters wanting to keep it up confronted each other over Silent Sam while campus police stood watch. However, the protesters prevailed, eventually using a rope to pull down the monument and even burying its head in the dirt.
Protesters bury the head in dirt. pic.twitter.com/qrAriio9ox
— The Daily Tar Heel (@dailytarheel) August 21, 2018
Silent Sam’s removal is particularly significant in the movement to tear down Confederate statues, as the monument was erected more than 100 years ago, at a cost of $7,500 (or more than $185,000 in today’s dollars).
According to the UNC-Chapel Hill website (archived link), Silent Sam was funded and built to honor the 321 alumni of the school that fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War (more than twice that number of alumni fought for the Union). The Confederacy, a seditionist movement that sought to overthrow the federal government as a means of preserving the institution of chattel slavery, fell in 1865 after General Robert E. Lee surrendered at the Appomattox courthouse in Virginia. The statue shows a man holding a rifle who drops his books in order to fight for the Confederacy, and the base of the statue shows a woman, who is supposed to represent North Carolina, urging students to cease their studies and fight for the Confederate South.
An article in the Durham Herald-Sun delves into the deeply racist history of the statue. When dedicating the statue, North Carolina businessman and former Confederate soldier Julian Carr made an overt reference to the cause of white supremacy.
“The present generation, I am persuaded, scarcely takes note of what the Confederate soldier meant to the welfare of the Anglo Saxon race during the four years immediately succeeding the war,” Carr said while dedicating Silent Sam, referring to the period when the Ku Klux Klan was founded and began terrorizing and lynching African Americans throughout the South. “Their courage and steadfastness saved the very life of the Anglo Saxon race in the South… [A]s a consequence the purest strain of the Anglo Saxon is to be found in the 13 Southern States – Praise God.”
Confederate monuments became a subject of national discussion in the wake of the 2015 mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The perpetrator of the shooting, who was white, stated that he carried out a mass shooting at a predominantly black church as a means of igniting a race war. He also took photos of himself holding a Confederate battle flag.
While proponents of keeping Confederate monuments up argue that the statues are necessary to preserve history, the Southern Poverty Law Center noted that many of America’s monuments honoring the Confederacy were erected during times of mass civil rights tension, suggesting that the monuments weren’t meant to honor the Civil War dead, but to intimidate African Americans.
Germany took a different approach to the uglier parts of their nation’s history. A German law passed in the Cold War era bans the “use of symbols of unconstitutional organizations,” which includes the swastika used by the Nazi regime and all insignia and military honors used during Adolf Hitler’s reign.
Scott Alden is a freelance contributor covering national politics, education, and environmental issues. He is a proud Toledo University graduate, and lives in the suburbs of Detroit.