The statue, known as Silent Sam, stood at an entrance to the Chapel Hill campus for more than a century, becoming increasingly divisive in recent years. It drew people determined to honor those who fought for the Confederacy and angered those who regarded it as a hateful reminder of racism and slavery. In 2018, protesters tore down Silent Sam, and school leaders were faced with what to do with it.
A settlement announced abruptly by the University of North Carolina System and its board of governors last month gives the North Carolina division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans all rights to the statue, bans the monument from any of the 14 counties with a UNC institution and creates a $2.5 million independent charitable trust for its preservation. Many students and faculty members responded with shock and outrage.
The action taken by the Lawyers’ Committee seeks to dismiss a legal case filed by the North Carolina division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans connected with the settlement with the university system. The civil rights committee argues that the Confederate heritage group lacks legal standing in the case.
The monument was given to the university in 1913 by a different Confederate heritage group. A few days before the settlement was reached, the second Confederate heritage group gave the local Sons of Confederate Veterans rights to the monument, which the Lawyers’ Committee argues it didn’t have.
The Lawyers’ Committee, on behalf of six students and one faculty member, is asking a court to put the settlement on hold. It argued that the university system and the Confederate group “colluded to defraud the Court on the issue of standing” and that the $2.5 million award is excessive.
De’Ivyion Drew, a UNC-Chapel Hill sophomore who is one of the students represented by the Lawyers’ Committee, said the board of governors’ secret negotiations and lack of transparency were unacceptable and violated the board’s duty to students and the university. The settlement will help the Sons of Confederate Veterans “perpetuate the ahistorical and dangerous ‘Lost Cause’ ideology,” she said in a written statement. “That ideology is a major obstacle to racial equity and reparative measures in our country.”
C. Boyd Sturges III, an attorney for the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said he had not seen the legal action and declined to comment. R. Kevin Stone, the group’s commander, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. He has said in the past that it is “patently false” to describe the organization as white supremacist.
Spokesmen for the statewide university system did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
Friday was tumultuous in Chapel Hill, with the board of governors announcing that Kevin Guskiewicz would serve as UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor.
Guskiewicz had been interim chancellor since shortly after the previous chancellor resigned after ordering the toppled Silent Sam statue to be removed from campus. He is an expert on sports-related concussions who was awarded a 2011 MacArthur Fellowship and had previously served as dean of the College of Arts & Sciences.
Guskiewicz said in a written statement that he was humbled to lead the school.
“There is no institution in the world that is more capable of changing the future than our nation’s first public university,” he said.
He was praised by UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees Chairman Richard Stevens, who chaired the search committee, as the visionary leader the school needs, someone who had prioritized student success and fostered interdisciplinary collaboration.
Ashton Martin, the school’s student body president, used her time at a news conference announcing Guskiewicz’s appointment to call attention to students’ aversion to the Silent Sam settlement.
“The Carolina many of us call home today is fraught with tension,” Martin said. “We want you to confront UNC’s history and acknowledge the wrongs it has committed in the name of the Confederacy and furthering a racist agenda with this settlement.”
Guskiewicz promised openness and transparency in his leadership, as well as a $5 million initiative. “This fund will seed the History, Race & A Way Forward Commission which will include academic initiatives to strengthen our research and teaching, help us to study our past, heal from that past, and move forward together,” he said in prepared remarks, and pay for other efforts to promote diversity and safety on campus. “This is just the start,” he said. “If there’s one defining value of a university — and particularly of a university like Carolina — it’s a constant refining of ourselves as a community.”
On Friday, students and others gathered in the rain to protest the settlement, as the board of governors met by conference call.
Multiple academic departments at UNC-Chapel Hill released statements this past week condemning the settlement, as the Faculty Council did the week earlier.
The Department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies called for the complete reversal of the “procedurally questionable, financially irresponsible, and morally bankrupt decision.”
The History Department wrote Friday that the Sons of Confederate Veterans ignores “overwhelming historical evidence about the causes of America’s Civil War, the centrality of slavery to the Confederacy, and the white supremacist system of the Confederate government.”
“Its false historical narrative states that the ‘preservation of liberty and freedom was the motivating factor in the South’s decision to fight.’ Historians reject this lost-cause mythology,” the history professors wrote, arguing that empirical evidence from policies and leaders demonstrates that the Confederacy was established to defend the enslavement of millions of people.
“To deny this evidence is as wrong as to deny the evidence for the Holocaust,” they wrote. “To give our University’s money to an organization that promotes historical falsehoods contradicts our professional commitment to teaching, research, and public service.”