Controversy Continues Over 'Silent Sam' Statue
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
In 2018, protesters tore down a Confederate monument at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The statue is known as Silent Sam. Now the university is paying the state chapter of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans $2.5 million to preserve it. And Will Michaels of member station WUNC reports some students and faculty are outraged at the university giving millions of dollars to a neo-Confederate group.
WILL MICHAELS, BYLINE: Silent Sam stood here on the campus of UNC for more than a hundred years. But today, there's not much evidence that it was ever here. The last of this season's fall leaves have covered up the new patch of grass where it once stood, and the settlement means it will not be put back up here. But it might have an equally prominent place somewhere else.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Ain’t no power like the power of the people 'cause the power of the people don’t stop.
MICHAELS: Julia Clark of UNC Chapel Hill's Black Student Movement was among the 200 or so people at this demonstration in opposition of the settlement Thursday.
JULIA CLARK: Ultimately, this is dehumanizing to students of color, especially black students. The situation's disrespectful. The way the university went about the situation was disrespectful, as well.
MICHAELS: The $2.5 million will come from what the settlement calls non-state funds. That is not technically taxpayer money, but it is university funding that could otherwise be used to support students.
Silent Sam had been in storage for more than a year. And for nearly as long, the UNC system's board of governors had been as silent as the statue about what they planned to do with it. The settlement was the first indication that the board was in talks with the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The board has not explained the details of the negotiations. A spokesman did not respond to multiple requests for comment, nor did the leader of the neo-Confederate group.
The university system insisted it was settling a lawsuit, but court records show the board of governors' chairman agreed to the deal before a lawsuit existed. And a judge approved the settlement seven minutes after the lawsuit was filed.
Fitz Brundage is a history professor at UNC Chapel Hill.
FITZ BRUNDAGE: Clearly, the significance attached to this monument and the historical events that are associated to it are just not that important to the - whoever made this settlement.
MICHAELS: Brundage has advocated for a resolution that would put the monument in the context of slavery, the Civil War and the student activism that brought it down. He says it's very unlikely the neo-Confederate group will see it that way.
BRUNDAGE: The Sons of Confederate Veterans promote a version of 19th century Southern history that glorifies the antebellum south, that glorifies the Confederacy and glorifies the Ku Klux Klan.
MICHAELS: Days after the UNC system announced the settlement, a member of the neo-Confederate group leaked an internal memo. In it, its leader Kevin Stone calls the deal a strategic victory. He says he intends to re-erect the statue at another location. And he says, quote, "What we have accomplished is something I never dreamed we could accomplish in a thousand years and all at the expense of the university."
Hours after the settlement, UNC Chapel Hill interim chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz sent a campus-wide email thanking the board of governors for resolving the matter of Silent Sam. He later said he empathized with the outrage and acknowledged issues of racism and injustice persist on campus.
First-year student Julia Clark agrees those issues are still not resolved.
CLARK: And it will not be resolved until this university protects students of color adequately and stops the pattern of disrespect that they have constantly shown.
MICHAELS: Protesters called on UNC alumni to stop donating to the university and described the payment as a subsidy of white supremacy.
For NPR News, I'm Will Michaels in Chapel Hill, N.C.
(SOUNDBITE OF KAKI KING'S "OOBLECK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.