While touring the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill on Tuesday afternoon, the Tice family took a detour.
“We thought we’d see the statue, since it might not be here,” said Deborah Tice, standing about fifteen feet from the first of two rows of metal fencing surrounding Silent Sam, a monument to Confederate soldiers just off Franklin Street.
The family, from New York, had heard reports of a protest at the statue planned for seven tonight and decided to check it out for themselves. Their daughter, Maia, is considering applying to the school.
As students milled about campus and news stations set up cameras, their discussion about the history of Silent Sam and Confederate monuments in general drew several eavesdroppers, including a university employee who said he studied the Civil War and gave a quick lesson on when the statue was dedicated (1913) and by whom (the United Daughters of the Confederacy and UNC alumni).
“I think it’s a piece of history, but it doesn’t need to be celebrated that way,” said Deborah’s husband, Wayne. Wayne said monuments like Silent Sam belong in museums. This one, he proposes, was “put here for a purpose”: to impress upon the next generation of thinkers a one-sided view of history.
“The present generation,” said industrial Julian Carr at the statue’s dedication, “I am persuaded, scarcely takes not of what the Confederate soldier meant to the welfare of the Anglo Saxon race during the four years immediately succeeding the war, when the facts are that their courage and steadfastness saved the very life of the Anglo Saxon race in the South. Carr, the namesake of Carrboro, then went on to detail how he “horse-whipped a negro wench” for insulting a “Southern lady.”
Silent Sam has been the subject of controversy as far back as 1940, when a counterprotest broke out during an antiwar rally. The statue is dedicated to students who fought in the Civil War, during which UNC remained open. Students groups have been asking for years to have the statue removed, and it’s been vandalized several times, most recently in April.
Metal barricades around the statue went up this morning.
Maia says Silent Sam’s presence will not be a big factor in her choice of where to go to—the discussion about its history and protests like the one planned tonight show not everyone in the UNC community supports it. She said if her decision came down to UNC and another school, she may take into account.
The state’s Confederate monuments are protected by a 2015 law that says they can’t be removed without the approval of the North Carolina Historical Commission. In a letter to the university, Governor Roy Cooper invoked an exception in that law when “an object of remembrance” poses a threat to public safety, as determined by a building inspector or similar official.
“The university is now caught between conflicting legal interpretations of the statute from the Governor and other legal experts,” the university said in a statement this afternoon.
UNC Chancellor Carol Folt, in a message to the campus community on Monday, alerted students to the possibility of a rally.
“Our concern is always for your safety and so considering the potential for a highly charged atmosphere and the very real possibility for confrontation with outside groups, we would encourage you not to attend the rally on Tuesday,” she wrote. “However, if you do choose to attend, we ask you to stay alert and vigilant. Campus police will be present to help address safety concerns. If you are not attending this event, please avoid McCorkle Place and the area around the Confederate Monument.”
The rally comes five days after Duke University removed a statue of Robert E. Lee (which had been vandalized overnight) from the entrance of Duke Chapel, and just over a week after a crowd of demonstrators pulled down a Confederate monument in Durham.
As for the Tice family’s plans for tonight: they’ll be touring Duke.