The Confederate statue, which occupied a prominent spot on the state flagship campus, has been a source of tension for years. For some, it was revered as an icon of Southern history and a monument to the school’s alumni who fought in the Civil War. For others, it was regarded as a symbol of white supremacy. After years of student protests and efforts to remove the statue from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus, a crowd toppled Silent Sam in August 2018.
Since then, the question has remained: What next?
The North Carolina Division Sons of Confederate Veterans sued the University of North Carolina System and the board of governors over the disposition of the monument, which has been in storage since protesters tore it down.
The months after it was toppled were tumultuous: A proposal by university leaders to return the statue to campus elicited shock and anger in Chapel Hill last December, and in January, the chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill ordered the remnants of Silent Sam removed from campus, and announced she would resign at the end of the academic year. The board of governors of the UNC system asked her to leave sooner.
The agreement announced Wednesday and approved by a judge, according to the UNC System, gives the North Carolina Division Sons of Confederate Veterans all rights and title to the monument, and requires that the monument not be maintained in any of the 14 North Carolina counties with a UNC institution.
It also requires the university to fund an independent charitable trust — with $2.5 million in money not from the state — to be used for care and preservation of the statue.
“The safety and security concerns expressed by students, faculty and staff are genuine,” James L. Holmes Jr., a member of the UNC board of governors, said in a written statement Wednesday, “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.”
R. Kevin Stone, commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ North Carolina division, said he was “ecstatic” the group was able to take possession of Silent Sam after negotiations and collaboration, “so that we can ensure that this memorial is put in a place of honor and respect.”
He declined to disclose where the monument is but said it would be erected on property owned by the group in North Carolina.
“The memorial is dedicated to the boy soldiers that went off to leave the University of North Carolina to defend their country against a foreign invasion,” Stone said. “Those of us that are in the Sons of Confederate Veterans are dedicated to preserve the honor of our ancestors and to make sure the true history of the South is presented to future generations.”
Randy Ramsey, chairman of the UNC board of governors, said in a statement, “This resolution allows the University to move forward and focus on its core mission of educating students.”
Kevin M. Guskiewicz, interim chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill, told the campus that an agreement had been reached in a short statement Wednesday. “This means Silent Sam will never return to our campus,” he wrote, and expressed appreciation to members of the board of governors “for resolving this matter.”
On social media, people expressed strong reactions. “SILENT SAM AIN’T COMING BACK TO CAMPUS EVER. PERIOD,” one person wrote.
“I’m hearing people celebrating the fact that it’s not going to be returned to UNC’s campus, but also outraged that UNC is paying $2.5 million to a white-supremacist organization,” said Heather Redding, an activist against racism in North Carolina. “It feels like a massive betrayal.”
The decision legitimizes the “Lost Cause” narrative promoted by neo-Confederate and hate groups, she said, while dismissing the work the UNC community has done to elevate awareness of enduring racism.
As Confederate monuments across the South are coming down, Redding said, “UNC is going extra lengths to put one back up.”
Stone said it is “patently false” that his group is white-supremacist, and he said the group expels anyone who wants to be in a white-supremacist organization. “We’re a historical, patriotic, benevolent, nonpolitical organization,” he said.
The UNC Black Congress, a student group, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday, but the group wrote on social media that UNC “has announced they’ve decided to give Silent Sam to confederate veterans and dedicate $2.5 million to protecting and preserving it in another location that’ll harm another community.” The group wrote that it’s not up to university administrators to decide when the issue is “‘resolved.’ That is up to the countless student and community members whose lives have been seriously wounded by the statue. Whose voices have been consistently spoken over and silenced.”
Alice Crites and Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.