Notable UNC-CH Alumni Enter Legal Fight Over Silent Sam Settlement

Jan 29, 2020

File photo of the base of the Silent Sam statue prior to its removal from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's campus.
Credit Gerry Broome / AP Photo

A group of high-profile UNC-Chapel Hill alumni are joining the fight against the UNC System Board of Governors' settlement with the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

District Court Judge Allen Baddour decided in December to re-open the case that gave the pro-Confederate group $2.5 million to maintain the Silent Sam statue that formerly stood on UNC-Chapel Hill campus until protesters pulled it down. At that last hearing, Baddour invited concerned parties to submit friend-of-the-court briefs to state their legal concerns about the case.

Lawyers representing 88 UNC-Chapel Hill alumni submitted one brief Wednesday. Among them are many donors and fundraisers, attorneys, two state Supreme Court justices, former Democratic Congressman Mel Watt, former UNC System Board of Governors Chair Sam Poole, and 14 early African American graduates of the university who belong to the UNC Black Pioneers. The alumni say the settlement misused university funds.

Another brief came the same day from the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. That firm represents current students and faculty who sought to intervene at the December hearing.

Both groups argue the Sons of Confederate Veterans had no standing to enter into a settlement with the UNC System, because the Confederate group did not legally own the monument.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans argue they had standing in the case because the United Daughters of the Confederacy transferred ownership of the statue to them before they filed a complaint against the UNC System. The North Carolina Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy erected the Silent Sam statue on UNC Chapel Hill's campus in 1913 to commemorate students who fought for the Confederacy.

Attorneys for the alumni, students and faculty argue the United Daughters of the Confederacy did not legally own the statue. The brief submitted by alumni cite evidence from former UNC-CH historian Cecelia Moore, who has studied Silent Sam's provenance. Attorneys for the students and faculty claim the United Daughters of the Confederacy did not have the legal capacity to own the statue, as an unincorporated association.

"We hope that after reviewing the full historical record the judge will conclude that the Sons of Confederate Veterans had no standing to bring their lawsuit, and the Consent Judgment must be set aside," said attorney Burton Craige, who represents the alumni.

Attorneys for the UNC System and the UNC Board of Governors submitted a brief in favor of their original settlement and against Judge Baddour's effort to re-open the case. The brief further argues that North Carolina law allows opposing parties in a lawsuit to agree if each party has standing and that "such an agreement is enough to establish standing."

Baddour may consider the arguments from all parties at a hearing on February 12.

This post has been updated at 5:45 p.m. January, 30.