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Waiting For A Decision On Silent Sam, Experts Weigh In

Don McCullough
Flickr Creative Commons

By November 15, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt and the school's Board of Trustees will present their plan for the future of the Confederate Silent Sam monument that was topped by protestors in late August. The statue is currently being stored at an undisclosed location.

After the statue came down this fall, UNC-CH leaders announced they would hold listening sessions to better understand the perspectives of the students and faculty who share a campus with the monument. But do the various community stakeholders feel listened to?

Host Frank Stasio checks in with UNC doctoral student Maya Little, scholars William Sturkey and Karen Cox, and political commentator and columnist John Hood, president of the John William Pope Foundation, for their perspectives on whether the monument belongs back in McCorkle Place.

[The United Daughters of the Confederacy] wanted to make sure that they built monuments and memorials everywhere in the South, in every nook and cranny in the South, as a means of not only honoring their ancestors, but this was a bigger program of vindicating their ancestors. - Karen Cox

Karen Cox is a professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the author of “Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture” (University Press of Florida/ 2003) which is set to be re-released in early 2019; William Sturkey is an assistant professor of history at UNC-Chapel Hill who specializes in the history of race in the American South. The pair take a look back at the context under which Silent Sam was first erected.

Little, the student who doused the statue with blood and red ink back in April, shares updates from her honor court proceedings and argues against the statue being returned to its former location on campus.

William Sturkey:

The fundamental issue is that it's basically incompatible with a post-desegregated campus. It always has been. It was just tolerated for a very long time. I think until 2015 we saw another shift in the meaning of what Confederate monuments can mean and what they can be for violent white supremacists like Dylan Roof. And so I think that really has changed the stakes, of course, about what these monuments now mean in 2018 as opposed to even what they did before in 2014 or 2014.

John Hood:

You don't get to tear it down, and I'm concerned that if the statue is now not put back in its previous location that this will be a very dangerous precedent: that people can’t – if they're disappointed, if they're frustrated that they haven't yet accomplished their ends – they can resort to criminal acts of that kind. I just think that's a mistake.

Maya Little:

I think they should bring the statue back and leave it on the ground. Leave Sam's face in the dirt where it fell. When students and community members and workers at this university took it upon themselves – after years of silencing by the administration, after years of the use of UNC police to harass, to beat, to intimidate protesters, after the North Carolina legislature basically autocratically imposing itself on our city – people took it in their own hands. And I think that the statue should be put right where it fell as a monument to resistance in North Carolina.

Stasio also talks to Roger Ehrlich, co-creator of the Swords to Plowshares Belltower. The 24-foot traveling memorial is comprised of silver plaques on which anyone can inscript a message or share their personal experience with war. Ehrlich talks about the inspiration behind the memorial and shares some of the stories from the plaques. The Swords to Plowshares Belltower will be at the North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh until Sunday, Nov. 11.

Laura Pellicer is a digital reporter with WUNC’s small but intrepid digital news team.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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