Local News

Harnett man puts in bid to move 'Silent Sam' to history center near Dunn

Posted January 29, 2019 7:03 p.m. EST

— As University of North Carolina officials weigh what to do with a Confederate monument that protesters pulled down last summer, a Harnett County man is offering an alternative to putting "Silent Sam" back on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.

Historian Bryan Avery said he would be honored to have Silent Sam at the Harnett County History Center, which he is developing on an old plantation across the street from Coats-Erwin Middle School.

"It goes along with our theme," Avery said Tuesday, adding that he would prefer the statue return to its century-old location on McCorkle Place at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Silent Sam has been the focus of campus demonstrations for years, with some calling it a symbol of racism and others saying it merely pays tribute to graduates who fought in the Civil War. Last August, demonstrators pulled the statue off its pedestal, and it has been in storage ever since.

Outgoing Chancellor Carol Folt recently ordered the pedestal and all markings of the monument be removed from McCorkle Place as well.

The UNC Board of Governors has already rejected a plan to build a history center at UNC-Chapel Hill for Silent Sam and material to put it in context, and officials are still figuring out what to do with the statue. A recommendation is expected in March.

If UNC officials and state lawmakers determine it's best to move the statue, Avery said, it would be protected at his history center.

"There ain't gonna be no protests. If anybody wants to come there and learn, that's fine. Otherwise, anybody coming there doing anything else would be run off," he said. "It’s a memorial to people who gave their lives for their country, just like any man who gave his life in Vietnam."

The history center already includes a museum and a building that served as a hospital during the Civil War. Avery said the center focuses on education – and not just on Confederate history. He notes a monument already on the site that honors the slaves who once worked the land.

"It’s everybody’s history," he said, noting the center will eventually cover the Revolutionary War to the mid-20th century.

The proposal is in the early stages, he said, adding that he has contacted state Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, about his idea.

"We want to be first in line," Avery said.

Lewis said there are no current plans to move Silent Sam.

Gov. Roy Cooper, who called for moving three Confederate statues from the grounds of the State Capitol to a Civil War battlefield site in Johnston County, said he likes the idea of putting Silent Sam at a history center.

"I think those kinds of monuments do belong in museums and battlefields. It's important to study history," said Cooper, who was checking in on hurricane recovery efforts in nearby Dunn.

John Turlington, who grew up on the plantation where the history center now sits and whose great-great-grandfather fought for the Confederacy, called Avery's proposal "fantastic."

"Bringing it back here, we’d put it back up, and people could appreciate it," said Turlington, who now lives in Virginia. "It definitely will be taken care of. There’s no doubt about it. Nobody is going to come tear it down here."