North Carolina pays Confederate group to house soldier statue

Backers of 19th century war for slavery get millions to preserve Silent Sam

December 2, 2019
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The University of North Carolina has ended its control over a controversial Civil War statue by giving the monument and $2.5 million (£1.9 million) in maintenance fees to a group that honours the 19th century fight to uphold slavery.

The statue, depicting a Confederate soldier known as Silent Sam, was pulled down by student protesters in August 2018 after it stood for more than a century at a main entrance to North Carolina’s flagship campus in Chapel Hill.

A legal settlement, approved by a county judge, gives the North Carolina Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans control of the statue and the $2.5 million to house and maintain it.

The resolution “does what is best for the university, and the university community,” James Holmes, an insurance executive who serves on the North Carolina board of governors, said in a statement from the state university system announcing the agreement.

Some on campus disagreed, calling the payment another insult after years of refusals by campus and system administrators to remove Silent Sam and better address the university’s role in advancing white supremacist attitudes.

In a sign of the political risks associated with challenging such memorials, the flagship’s previous chancellor, Carol Folt, chose to resign this past January while simultaneously ordering the removal of the pedestal that remained after the student-led toppling of the Silent Sam statue that stood on top of it.

William Sturkey, an assistant professor of history at North Carolina who specialises in race and the American South, told the student newspaper that he regarded the settlement as equivalent to “subsidising the Confederacy”.

“I don’t even have words for how insane this is,” Dr Sturkey told the paper, The Daily Tar Heel.

A student activist, James Sadler, who is pursuing a doctoral degree in history, also expressed disgust. “UNC has no desire to reckon with their history or contributions to white supremacy,” Mr Sadler wrote on Twitter. “They’ll spend millions to brush it aside.”

The agreement requires that the $2.5 million come from sources not provided by the government. The agreement also requires that Sons of Confederate Veterans display Silent Sam in a location outside the 14 counties that contain a UNC-system campus.

The chairman of the North Carolina board of governors, Randy Ramsey, said in the statement announcing the agreement that it “allows the university to move forward and focus on its core mission of educating students”.

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