Education

Objections to 'Silent Sam' disrupt UNC University Day

Posted October 12, 2015

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— An annual celebration of the history of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was shaded by protest Monday.

University Day, Oct. 12, is the celebration of the laying of the cornerstone Old East, the campus' first building, in 1793.

"University Day is such a glossed over version of what the history is," said student June Beshea. "They celebrate 1793, but black people weren't allowed in this university until 1951, and they don't ever recognize that."

In addition to the usual speeches and alumni recognition, the University Day event featured about two dozen students shouting opposition to the "Silent Sam" statue and other campus markers they say are emblematic of a racist past.

"Tear it down, tear it down, or we'll shout you down," students from a group called The Real Silent Sam Coalition chanted, interrupting a speech by Chancellor Carol Folt.

After their stand during the celebration, the students received applause from some faculty.

"Universities are places where our students and community speak with real heart and voice," Folt said. "I'm really glad they felt comfortable to come here and that we were all able to listen their very important message."

The group has asked that "Silent Sam," a monument erected in 1913, be modified to include a plaque on that contextualizes its history. The statue, which depicts a Confederate soldier facing north while holding a rifle in his hands, was dedicated in memory of students who served and died in the Civil War.

The coalition says "the monument is falsely represented" as honoring students, was erected "at the height of North Carolina’s white supremacy movement to incite fear in the newly freed black population" and makes many students feel unwelcome on campus.

Silent Sam has been vandalized twice this year, including having "KKK" and "Murderer" spray-painted on its base.

Before chanting in Memorial Hall, the students marched across campus, stopping at the Old Well. They also hung a skirt from the statue's musket, a reference to the unveiling 102 years ago when a speaker told the crowd that he had whipped a black woman until her skirt was shredded.

University crews removed the skirt from the statue shortly after the students left.

Coalition members said they know that any change could be years in coming, but they are determined to continue to make their voices heard.

"This was just to get the university to recognize that we're here, but after that, it's going to be a long process, I'm sure," Beshea said.

Another call for change by students saw a building renamed this year. Saunders Hall was renamed Carolina Hall after university administrators agreed that it was improper to have a building named for William Saunders, a leader of the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina.

42 Comments

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  • Arron Lee Oct 27, 2015
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    I am a little late getting in on this discussion but I just heard a clip on the radio from what sounded like a foreign student, perhaps from India, saying she is tired of having to protest on these issues. Well, we are tired of you protesting as well. Please stop! College students haven't been on this earth long enough to really know about history and just how far people have advanced in the freedom. I know, I was a college student once. Most of them simply are fed a ton of liberal junk to get them fired up about something. Here is a suggestion....learn mathematics, English, Science. That will take you further in life than griping about a monument on your campus grounds that was there long before you were.

  • Sean Creasy Oct 13, 2015
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    No. You are the dense one as your narrow little mind didn't seem to grasp the point that I made. If this "icon" to the fallen soldiers of the civil war was deemed offensive then the other "icons" that I listed should also be deemed offensive because they also promote one group of humans over all others.

  • William James Oct 13, 2015
    user avatar

    It's not just Silent Sam, the south has hundreds of monuments, symbols, and painting strategically placed on Government buildings. How is it appropriate to cherry pick a single war, race, and value period to define our state eternally? Would this whole state history argument still stand if I built a 50ft bronze statue on the Capital steps or University of an African and Native Americans who fought and killed southerners vs. being enslaved, displaced, abused, or murdered?

  • John Snow Oct 13, 2015
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    Jeez. Go read the cornerstone speech.

  • John Snow Oct 13, 2015
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    MLK represents repression of another race? Are you dense? Must be the product of southern schools.

  • Tom Boswell Oct 13, 2015
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    Nobody takes the University of Notorious Cheaters serious anymore.

  • Sean Creasy Oct 13, 2015
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    Umm... Chanting "tear it down or we'll shout you down" doesn't seem to me as if they just want further explanation....

  • Sean Creasy Oct 13, 2015
    user avatar

    So they want Sam removed because he represents oppression of one race over another? Well then they need to remove all memorials in that case including all MLK, war, and any other memorial honoring fallen leaders or soldiers because they all represent one race of human beings raising themselves higher than another...

  • Deneise Sims Oct 12, 2015
    user avatar

    If you are that offended, don't attend this university.

  • Carol Smithfield Oct 12, 2015
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    This "diversion" is not representative of the real activities of a large research university; folks at UNC-CH work hard to solve the real problems of our day. Researchers at UNC-CH are endeavoring to cure all forms of cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease and mental illness. These phony pseudo-intellectuals would do well to spend their time visiting health clinics where the real suffering occurs. They might learn a thing or two about the value of life in 2015!

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