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UNC System, Sons of Confederate Veterans reach settlement on Silent Sam

Posted November 27, 2019 2:13 p.m. EST
Updated December 2, 2019 12:47 a.m. EST

— After years of controversy, protests, threats and lawsuits, a judge on Wednesday approved a settlement agreement between the University of North Carolina System and the North Carolina chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans over what to do with the Confederate statue known as Silent Sam.

According to a written statement released by the university system, the agreement will now allow the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University System to "to focus on its core mission of teaching, education, and research."

“This resolution allows the University to move forward and focus on its core mission of educating students," UNC System Board of Governors Chairman Randy Ramsey said in the statement.

The terms of the agreement include:

  • The university will turn over possession of the monument to the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
  • The Sons of Confederate Veterans will "forever maintain possession of the monument outside any of the 14 counties currently containing a UNC System campus.
  • The university system – "using non-state funds" – will endow a charitable trust in the amount of $2.5 million, proceeds of which will be used for "certain limited expenses related to the care and preservation of the monument, including potentially a facility to house and display the monument."

The controversial "Silent Sam" statue was toppled in August 2018 during a late-night operation by campus activists that apparently took university officials and campus police by surprise.

At the end of the night, the statute had been toppled from its perch and UNC-Chapel Hill officials had placed a barrier around the fallen monument.

It was later hauled away by movers who transported it to an undisclosed location while UNC System administrators and the Board of Governors decided how to proceed.

The toppling of the statue sparked more protests, arrests, additional legal fights and a comprehensive review by the system over how UNC-Chapel Hill responded to the event and whether its actions were appropriate.

A controversial history

Erected over 100 years ago and dedicated in 1913 in memory of students and faculty who fought and died for the Confederacy in the U.S. Civil War, the statue has been a focal point of controversy throughout its history on campus.

It became a racial flashpoint because of comments made by UNC donor Julian Carr, who in dedicating the statue, said, "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 she had maligned and insulted a Southern lady, and then rushed for protection to these University buildings where was stationed a garrison of 100 Federal soldiers. I performed the pleasing duty in the immediate presence of the entire garrison."

Protests and vandalism periodically pitted those in favor of the statue as a monument to Southern heritage against those who saw it as a tribute to a cultural history of slavery, oppression and racism.

In April 2018, a student activist smeared blood and red paint on the statue four months before it would be felled by other activists.

UNC System plots next steps

In early 2019, five members of the UNC Board of Governors – Darrell Allison, Jim Holmes, Wendy Murphy, Anna Nelson and Bob Rucho – formed a committee to work with UNC-Chapel Hill to craft a solution that would be deemed "safe and compliant with the law."

“The safety and security concerns expressed by students, faculty and staff are genuine, and we believe this consent judgment not only addresses those concerns but does what is best for the university, and the university community in full compliance with North Carolina law,” Holmes said in the statement released Wednesday.

Reaction

UNC alum Nicholas Teder said he believes it's ultimately worth the cost the UNC System will spend to get rid of the statue.

"These victories are costly, but I think it’s the right thing to do," he said. "I think that’s a personal opinion, how much money is your conscious worth exactly."

Another student who attends college out of state expressed relief that the statue's presence has been removed.

"I think that it’s a great development," said Alyssa Wang, a Chapel Hill native. "It doesn’t belong on the UNC campus."

We asked the Sons of Confederate Veterans for a comment. This is a statement emailed back to us Wednesday evening:

"We do not want to comment on your questions at this time. Answering your questions in detail would jeopardize the safety of the memorial - when the time comes and all is ready we will let everyone know where Silent Sam has been resurrected. We do have a plan."

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