The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Silent Sam should stay on UNC campus in safer location, university leaders suggest

The divisive Confederate monument known as Silent Sam must remain on the University of North Carolina’s campus but should not be returned to the site where it was toppled by protesters earlier this year, the school’s leaders recommended Monday.

The statue should be placed in a new, secure building, an education and history center to be built on campus for that purpose, Chancellor Carol Folt suggested.

The report states that university leaders would prefer to remove the monument from campus, and place it in a site such as the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, but state law does not allow that. Public safety concerns are such that school officials will continue talks about that approach even as they move forward with the plan that complies with the law now in place.

The news immediately sparked plans by student and community groups to protest Monday night, objecting to what some called a $5 million shrine to white supremacy.

The site where the statue stood for more than 100 years, a prominent entrance to campus, should become a commemorative space that shares information about the 225-year history of the public university, the board decided. School officials will work on providing more context about history throughout campus -- including recognizing the role of enslaved people.

The UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees approved the plan Monday morning.

Savannah Putnam, the UNC student body president, said she could not support putting a Confederate monument anywhere on campus. She and another trustee voted against the plan.

The recommendation goes to the statewide University of North Carolina Board of Governors for approval. If that panel agrees with the plan, it would request permission from the North Carolina Historical Commission to move the monument.

The board of governors could also request permission from the historical commission to alter the area where the pedestal of the statue now stands. That commemorative space might include a semicircular wall with plaques celebrating important aspects of the university’s history, such as its founding principles, veterans of all wars, public service and the university charter.

Trustee William A. Keyes IV said that the board of governors’ directive to come up with a plan was too narrow, and that it left out moral and ethical considerations. The monument was erected at a time when white racists were asserting their dominance over black people, he said, and it honors students who fought in a war to protect the brutal institution of slavery. He voted to support the plan, given the restrictions on the board of trustees, but said his statement was necessary given the unmitigated evils of slavery.

The monument had been a flash point for protests about race and history long before it fell, and demonstrations and debate continued at the site after the bronze statue was whisked away to a secure and hidden location.

A state law limited what could be done with the monument, and the directive from the statewide board ensured its preservation. Officials had to balance public safety, freedom of speech and strong feelings about whether the statue symbolized a racist past or the valor of students who fought in the Civil War.

Now what, Sam? UNC faculty, others suggest what to do with toppled Confederate monument

University officials got more than 5,000 messages from members of the public and reached out to major campus groups including students, faculty and staff for suggestions.

Michael Palm, an associate professor of communications at UNC-Chapel Hill, said the plan only gives lip service to community input. “This cowardly report only reaffirms what we all knew: The values of Folt and the [Board of Trustees] are in direct opposition to the UNC community,” he said.

Folt said that public safety was a primary motivation and that a panel of security experts strongly recommended putting the monument in its own building, with high-tech security and a buffer zone around its perimeter.

The estimated cost of the University History and Education Center is $5.3 million and would be on campus but not at its heart. Student family housing at the site, known as Odum Village, is scheduled for demolition. Officials anticipated an annual $800,000 operating cost for the building, with possible completion in 2022.

Some students marveled that a state flagship school would erect a Confederate monument in 2022.

Some professors also noted that at UNC’s rival school, nearby Duke University, the board of trustees voted Saturday to remove the name of donor Julian Carr from a building on campus because he was an active proponent of white supremacy. Carr gave a speech at the dedication of Silent Sam at which he bragged about “horsewhipping” a black woman.

The Faculty Council had asked university officials to remove Silent Sam from campus last year, and it voted in October to request that the statue and its base be permanently removed. “Returning the statue to the UNC-Chapel Hill campus would reaffirm the values of white supremacy that motivated its original installation,” they wrote in an October resolution, and would “undermine the moral and physical security of all members of our community.”

People on campus will be furious if the monument is returned to campus, said Frank Baumgartner, a professor of political science. “I hope the board of governors, when they see the pricetag for the on-campus location, plus the outrage, will try to get the law changed,” to allow them to move the statue to a history museum in Raleigh, N.C. “There’s a much more reasonable solution to this.”