The Faculty of the Department of English and Comparative Literature pledge through our teaching, research, and public service to continue the hard work of rooting out racism and inequality and to replace them with “light and liberty,” the motto of our university. The toppling of the statue known as “Silent Sam” on August 20 is symbolically powerful and should remind us that our work is unfinished at our own institution of higher learning. We call upon the UNC administration and NC leaders to house the fallen statue elsewhere, as should have been done long ago, and to renew their commitment to creating a just and inclusive campus.

One year ago, we unequivocally supported calls to remove the statue to a place where it could be properly contextualized. In our assessment, its history and its formerly prominent location on campus are at odds with the fundamental principles and ideals of UNC that stand 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 described it during his speech at the statue’s unveiling, was 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” of brutally horsewhipping an African American woman, whom he referred to as a “negro wench,” for allegedly “publicly insulting” a white “Southern lady.” His intent for the monument was thus explicitly one of 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 this era embody the Jim Crow era of violent segregation and repression of African Americans. Likewise, we can honor Southern history and the lives of students in ways that are not centered on 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 maintain 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. We plan to provide further scholarship and statements on different aspects of these narratives in the future.

Related links:
Statement of Malinda Maynor Lowery, Director of the Center for the Study of the American South
“Silent Sam” illustrated history created by Professor Jim Leloudis and University Historian Cecelia Moore
Wilson Library’s Guide to Researching Silent Sam 
Julian Carr’s dedication speech, which is archived in Wilson Library, UNC – (Click on Scans 93-112)
Transcription of the speech here
Description of the Monument on DocSouth 
UNC’s FAQ on Silent Sam and other then-current campus issues (September 13, 2017)

photo credit: Sarah Boyd

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