Written for The Weekly Standard
August 22nd, 2018
After a naked man tried to blow up a tree and a graduate student threw a mixture of paint and blood on the Confederate memorial on campus last school year, most students at UNC Chapel Hill probably thought they couldn’t be shocked any more. And yet, the night before classes kicked off this semester: the longstanding statue of a Confederate soldier—nicknamed “Silent Sam,” due to his lack of ammunition—was torn down by protesters.
Silent Sam wasn’t particularly popular among students, but the act was surprising nevertheless. There had been countless protests before this one, but all of them started to peter out once students remembered they also had classes they had to attend. But for whatever reason—perhaps the “highly organized” non-student protesters the university seems to think are responsible—this time was different, and at around 9:30 p.m. on August 20 Sam got the Saddam Hussein treatment.
A few hours after Sam was pulled from his large stone pedestal, Carol Folt, the chancellor of the university, sent out an email decrying the act as “unlawful and dangerous.” Folt is no fan of the memorial herself, but due to a state law passed in 2015 has been unable to move it. The law in question was passed by the Republican-controlled North Carolina General Assembly, and prevents the removal of any monuments or renaming of any buildings on state property without the express permission of the North Carolina Historical Commission. Folt and the UNC administration have toed the line in regards to the law, even when Governor Roy Cooper gave them his legally suspect blessing to relocate Silent Sam.
The campus is now anxiously anticipating what will happen with Sam. Will it be put back up, moved somewhere else, or retired to a museum? Just two days after the protest, a likely answer was provided. The Historical Commission met to discuss the fate of three Confederate memorials on the grounds of the state capitol. They decided the statues should remain, but with recontextualization. It’s hard to imagine a different decision will be reached regarding Silent Sam, especially after the protest. Neither the commission nor the General Assembly want it to look like they’re getting pushed around by a bunch of unruly college kids.