National News

UNC Chancellor Apologizes for History of Slavery at Chapel Hill

Posted October 13, 2018 1:44 p.m. EDT

Ever since the cornerstone of the nation’s first public university building was laid in 1793, the legacy of slavery has been inextricable from the history of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

At an event celebrating the university’s 225th birthday Friday, Chancellor Carol L. Folt apologized for that history.

“I offer our university’s deepest apology for the profound injustices of slavery, our full acknowledgment of the strength of enslaved peoples in the face of their suffering, and our respect and indebtedness to them,” Folt said in a speech for the University Day celebration at Memorial Hall.

She said that UNC had a unique place in history as the nation’s oldest public university, adding that “our apology must lead to purposeful action, and it has to build upon the great efforts and sacrifices of so many across the years who fought so hard for much of what we value about Carolina today.”

The apology came about two months after protesters toppled “Silent Sam,” a 105-year-old Confederate monument that had become a contentious fixture at the university, with some calling it a symbol of white supremacy and others arguing that tearing it down amounted to vandalism.

The toppling on Aug. 20 and subsequent demonstrations led to several arrests, and some protesters are still facing charges.

The statue, which featured prominently in a central quadrangle called McCorkle Place, was unveiled in 1913 with support from the United Daughters of the Confederacy. It depicted a Confederate soldier holding a rifle. He was considered “silent” because he had no ammunition to fire his weapon.

In September, black faculty members at the university said in a letter that Silent Sam should not be resurrected anywhere on campus, calling it “a monument to white supremacy, steeped in a history of violence against black people.”

The monument is now in storage as the university considers new markers and art installations for McCorkle Place. James Leloudis, a history professor who is one of the leaders of a task force on UNC history, said at the event Friday that the new installations would acknowledge the histories of Native Americans and African-Americans at UNC.

Slaves built and maintained properties on campus from its foundation in 1793 until the end of the Civil War in 1865.

The university has an online exhibition of historical documents concerning slavery, including bills for people who were sold, records of trustees who owned slaves and a compilation of the names of the enslaved men and women who built some of the university’s oldest structures.

In 2015, the university’s board of trustees voted to rename Saunders Hall, which had been named for William Saunders, an organizer for the Ku Klux Klan during the 1800s.

This month, the university decided to remove the name of William Rand Kenan Sr. from a plaque because of his involvement in an episode of racial violence in 1898.

On Friday, Folt said the university was committed to “facing squarely and working to right the wrongs of history so they are never again inflicted.”