The University of North Carolina’s (UNC) board of governors has rejected a December 3rd proposal for a $3.5 million museum on the university’s campus. UNC board of trustees from its flagship campus in Chapel Hill presented the statewide board of governors a 13-page document proposing a four-part plan for the ‘disposition and preservation’ of a campus confederate monument known as Silent Sam, which was toppled in August. The board of trustees had overwhelmingly approved the plans for the museum before taking it to the board of governors. The proposed museum would have offered an on-campus location for the statue which has been held off campus grounds due to community safety and concern. In a December 14th statement, UNC chancellor Carol Folt stated the proposal met the board of governors’ need for a plan but it had yet to ‘satisf[y] anyone.’
If plans for the History of Education museum had been approved, the gun-wielding Confederate soldier statue would have remained on UNC’s campus among other exhibits. However, the board of governors ‘strongly’ expressed the want to explore off-campus options including moving the statue to the North Carolina Museum of History. This move would ‘ensure the safety and security of [UNC’s] people and campus and [would be] more feasible and cost-effective,’ according to Folt. The board of governors has since appointed a five-member committee to work with the chancellor to create a new plan for the next board meeting on March 15th. The university has had to comply with state laws concerning the removal of such statues.
Silent Sam has been the source of controversy for decades. This year, in the wake of a 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, faculty and students alike have expressed their want for the removal of the statue. On the evening of August 20th, around 250 protesters in favour of removing the statue gathered on UNC’s campus. During the demonstration, the statue, erected in 1913, was toppled forcing the university to decide the fate of Silent Sam. More recently, hundreds of protestors took to the street after the board of trustees passed the plan for the ‘$5 million shrine to white supremacy,’ as some have called it, in early December. Graduate students called for teaching assistants and faculty to withhold end-of-term results in solidarity with the StrikeDownSam Anti-Racist Coalition until the matter was resolved to add pressure to the board of governors. According to the coalition, around 80 teaching assistants and faculty participated potentially affecting 2,300 students. After the December 14th announcement, grades were released.
‘We are the only university in this state that has anything closely resembling this statue,’ said chancellor Folt. She continued: ‘Put here more than one hundred years ago, our community is carrying the burden of an artifact, given to us by a previous generation in a different time. The burden of the statue has been and still is disproportionately shouldered by African Americans.’
UNC is the country’s oldest public university with a long and ‘complicated’ history according to the school’s website. Silent Sam is a testament to this. Erected during the Jim Crow period, the statue was commissioned by the Daughters of the Confederacy to commemorate Confederate soldiers and UNC students who died during the Civil War. The statue, though, has also compelled groups to rally against recent protests calling for the statue to remain on campus as part its history representing a bygone era.