UNC Board of Governors To Give Confederate Group $2.5M To Preserve Silent Sam

Dec 6, 2019

The University of North Carolina Board of Governors is giving the state chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans $2.5 million to preserve a Confederate monument that once stood on the campus of UNC Chapel Hill.

Protesters tore down the statue known as Silent Sam in 2018. But outrage has grown among students and faculty who say the university refuses to reckon with its racist past.

The settlement was the first indication that the UNC System's governing body was in talks with the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Silent Sam had been in storage for more than a year.  And for nearly as long, the Board of Governors had been as silent as the statue about what they planned to do with it.

This is dehumanizing to students of color. The situation is disrespectful. The way the university went about the situation is disrespectful as well. -Julia Clark

"They specifically released the information of this settlement when students were home for break for Thanksgiving to stifle student response," said Julia Clark, one of about 200 UNC Chapel Hill students at a demonstration to oppose the settlement earlier this week.

"Ultimately, this is dehumanizing to students of color,” she added. “The situation is disrespectful. The way the university went about the situation is disrespectful as well."

The UNC System has not explained the details of negotiations with the Sons of Confederate Veterans. A spokesperson did not respond to multiple requests from WUNC for comment, nor did the leader of the Confederate group.

The University System insisted it was settling a lawsuit. But court records show the Board of Governors' chairman agreed to the deal before a lawsuit existed. Days later, the deal moved quickly through the courts. The Sons of Confederate Veterans filed its lawsuit, the UNC System responded, and a judge approved a settlement all within seven minutes.

Fitz Brundage is a history professor at UNC Chapel Hill, who has advocated for a resolution that would put the monument in the context of slavery, the Civil War, and the student activism that brought it down.

"Clearly, the significance attached to this monument and the historical events associated with it are just not that important to whoever made this settlement," he said.

Brundage says it's very unlikely the Sons of Confederate Veterans will see it that way.

"The Sons of Confederate Veterans promote a version of 19th Century Southern history that glorifies the Antebellum South, glorifies the Confederacy and glorifies the Ku Klux Klan,” Brundage said. “Of course, the Sons of Confederate Veterans will always insist they're not racist, but their messaging is very compatible with white supremacy."

File photo of a protestor against the Silent Sam monument standing near a barricade around the statue at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Protestors for and against the statue's removal attended rallies near the monument on Tuesday, August 22, 2017.
Credit Matt Couch / WUNC

Silent Sam stood on the campus of UNC for more than 100 years, but today there's not much evidence that it was ever here. The last of this season's fall leaves have covered up the new patch of grass where it once stood, and this settlement means it will not be put back up on campus, but it might have an equally prominent place somewhere else.

Days after the UNC System announced the settlement, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans leaked an internal memo to former Board of Governors member Greg Doucette. In it, the group's leader Kevin Stone calls the deal a "strategic victory." 

Stone says he intends to use some of the money to build a headquarters for the group.

"What we have accomplished is something that I never dreamed we could accomplish in a thousand years, and all at the expense of the University," Stone said.

But for many on the Chapel Hill campus, the issue is not resolved.

"And it will not be resolved until this university protects students of color adequately and stops the pattern of disrespect that they have constantly shown," said student Julia Clark.

Hours after the settlement, UNC Chapel Hill interim chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz sent a campus-wide email thanking the Board of Governors for resolving the matter of Silent Sam. He declined to comment further.

The settlement says the $2.5 million has to come from what it calls "non-state" funds. That is not technically taxpayer money, but it is university funding that could otherwise be used to support students.