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UNC’s ‘Silent Sam’ Could Be Coming Back to Campus. Here’s What to Know

On Monday, the university’s Board of Trustees unveiled a controversial proposal to build a “history and education” center to house the Confederate monument

August 20, 2018 file photo showing police standing guard after the Confederate statue Silent Sam was toppled by protesters on campus at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
smithsonian.com

Several hundred protesters marched on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus Monday night hours after the university’s Board of Trustees announced its proposal to build a $5.3 million facility to house a Confederate monument known as "Silent Sam," which was toppled from its pedestal on campus in August.

Since then, the statue has been stored in an undisclosed location while the board deliberated on its fate. The board's solution, put forth this week, proposes building a $5.3 million "history and education" facility to house the controversial monument—a plan that has angered those who believe the statue should be removed from the campus entirely, reports the Associated Press.

UNC Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt and several trustees said they wanted to take Silent Sam off campus, but were bound by a 2015 state law that prohibits the removal of historic monuments, unless relocation is necessary for preservation purposes or due to construction projects. The law also stipulates that if a statue is permanently relocated, it must be moved “to a site of similar prominence, honor, visibility, availability, and access.”

Returning the statue to its outdoor location on the main campus was, according to Folt, “impossible” due to safety concerns. The new proposal recommends building an indoor education center that will tell the “full history of this university, from before settlement to its emergence this day as one of the leading public state research universities in America,” according to Folt, as CNN’s Eric Levenson and Amir Vera report. The facility will be open to the public and protections of buffers and security will be put in place. In addition to the $5.3 million construction costs, the building will require $800,000 annually to maintain its operations.

Officials proposed placing the monument south of the university’s hospital, located about a mile away from where Silent Sam once stood. According to the proposal, the new site will be “the next area of growth for campus.”

News of the board’s recommendation led to demonstrators converging at the barricaded area that formerly housed the monument on Monday night. There was a heavy police presence at the site, and when the assembled crowd began pushing on the barricades, officers put on riot gear. Maya Little, a graduate student and prominent activist, was arrested in connection with the protest. Another graduate student faced numerous charges, including assaulting a police officer.

Explaining the unrest on campus, associate professor of art Cary Levine told Levenson and Vera that students were “riled up and just don't understand why the university is committing to building a $5.3 million building to house what to them is a symbol of pain and white supremacy.”

“I think that I sympathize with that point of view,” Levine added.

Silent Sam was erected on the UNC campus in 1913, with support from the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The statue depicts a soldier holding a gun without ammunition—which is why the statue is known as “Silent Sam”—and a panel on the side of the monument shows a woman, representing the state, urging a student to join the fight for the Confederacy.

The final say in what happens to the monument rests with the Board of Governors, a body that oversees the state-wide university system. The board will consider the issue when it meets on December 14.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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