The faculty of the Department of English and Comparative Literature unequivocally support calls to remove the statue known as “Silent Sam” to a place where it may be properly contextualized. In our assessment, its history and its current prominent location on campus are at odds with the fundamental principles and ideals of UNC that call for the inclusion and dignity of all. We cannot and do not support the ideas that it celebrates in the context of a public university today. Furthermore, we support our students’ rights to freedom of expression and freedom to protest.
Our department’s educational mission is to study and critique the rhetoric, construction, and historical and social context of our cultural narratives in all of their complexity. As researchers and teachers, we encourage our community to continue to learn about the historical context and narratives that surround Silent Sam and other similar memorials and monuments of the early twentieth century. These are far from simple remembrances of fallen soldiers. Erected in 1913, the Memorial to Civil War Soldiers of the University, as it is formally entitled, is inscribed to those Confederate soldiers “whose lives taught the lesson…that duty is the sublimest word in the English language.” That duty, as Julian Carr, Confederate veteran and tobacco manufacturer, described it during his speech at the statue’s unveiling, was for young Southern men to fight and die, if necessary, to “save the very life of the Anglo Saxon race in the South…and to-day, as a consequence the purest strain of the Anglo Saxon is to be found in the 13 Southern States.” Carr dwelled proudly on his own “pleasing duty” shortly after the war of brutally horsewhipping an African American woman, he referred to as a “negro wench,” for allegedly “publicly insulting” a white “Southern lady.” Carr embraced this monument specifically because it memorialized a war fought to perpetuate racial oppression and white supremacy. Despite the nostalgic campus stories that later generations have created around Silent Sam, we must not forget that the Confederate memorials of the early twentieth century embody the Jim Crow era of violent repression and segregation of African Americans. It is possible for the state and region to honor history and the lives of student veterans in ways that do not celebrate the history of enslavement and racial violence. The painful heritage that Silent Sam and similar monuments evoke necessitates study and contemplation, not celebration.
We will continue our efforts to research and teach about this issue and to engage in further public dialogue about the proper actions to be taken for the statue’s relocation and contextualization.
Suggested links for further reading:
Wilson Library’s Guide to Researching Silent Sam http://guides.lib.unc.edu/campus-monuments/silent-sam
Recent History of the Debate on Silent Sam
Julian Carr’s dedication speech, which is archived in Wilson Library, UNC
http://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/00141/#folder_26#1 (Click on Scans 93-112)
Transcription of the speech here:
Description of the Monument on DocSouth http://docsouth.unc.edu/commland/monument/41/
UNC’s FAQ on Silent Sam and other current campus issues (September 13, 2017)
UNC Student protest “10 Silent Sam Facts”
UNC Faculty Council Resolution https://facultygov.unc.edu/files/2016/02/RES201710SilentSamAmended.pdf
Statement from the President of the University of Texas at Austin on the removal of Confederate Statues