The leader of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill marked the public university’s 225th anniversary with an apology for its role in slavery.
“As chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I offer our university’s deepest apology for the profound injustices of slavery,” Carol Folt said Friday, acknowledging that enslaved people helped build and sustain the school.
“Our unique legacy demands that we continue to reconcile our past with our present and future and be the diverse and just community that is fitting for America’s first public university,” Folt said. “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.”
Chris Suggs, a sophomore who is secretary of the Black Student Movement at UNC, said students were surprised by Folt’s remarks; his phone lit up Friday with people talking about it. “We absolutely appreciate Chancellor Folt making those comments on University Day,” he said, especially considering some of the issues around race on campus and across the country.
“I truly do believe she was sincere,” in the apology, he said, “particularly because of her mentioning it had to be backed up by action.” He said the university has struggled with issues including admission and retention of black male students like himself.
“The Black Student Movement is really committed to working with the administration and holding them accountable,” he said.
UNC is one of many schools confronting past ties to slavery, as scores of colleges reconsider the way they frame their own histories and acknowledge troubling aspects of that history.
UNC has been delving into its history for a while; in 2015, it renamed a building that had honored a purported Ku Klux Klan leader, and a group was created to study the institution’s past.
At the beginning of this school year, protesters forced dramatic, immediate change when they toppled a Confederate monument that had stood on campus for more than a century.
Folt and UNC’s trustees have until Nov. 15 to send a plan for “Silent Sam,” as the Confederate monument is known, to the UNC system’s board of governors. It is in storage now, with some demanding the historic marker be reinstalled and others insisting it is a symbol of racism that has no place on the campus.
History professor James Leloudis told the crowd at the University Day anniversary ceremony about the task force’s examination of the school’s history, and about plaques that will be installed in the oldest part of the university, where Silent Sam used to stand. University officials plan markers to acknowledge the role of indigenous people at UNC, express the university’s contrition for its role in the injustices of slavery, and remind visitors that it is the country’s first public university.