What Should “Silent Sam” Say?

Silent Sam

The 100th anniversary of the dedication of “Silent Sam” on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has not surprisingly led to a renewed push to have it removed. These protests have been a regular occurrence in recent years as more people, both on and off campus, interpret both the war and historical context of the dedication through a racial lens. This time the president of the NC chapter of the NAACP is leading the charge.

“The reality is that Sam has never been silent,” state NAACP President William Barber told the crowd. “He speaks racism. He speaks hurt to women – particularly black women. And he continues just by his presence to attempt to justify the legacy of the religion of racism.”

One of those at the rally was 77-year-old Jerry Carr of Chapel Hill, a UNC student in the mid-1960s and 1970s.  “I was always irked by this statue,” Carr said. “It was always said that the war wasn’t about slavery – that it was about states’ rights. And that kind of squelched any discussion about it. It’s taken a long, long time to recognize the truth – that the war was about the preservation of slavery.”

Zaina Alsous, a 2013 UNC graduate and member of the Real Silent Sam Committee that helped organize the demonstration, said the group wants people to understand “the painful parts of our history, the part of UNC’s history where we expressed violent racial discrimination, and also to be critical of where we are today.”

Anyone familiar with this blog knows that I am sympathetic to the power of these monuments and the pain that they cause certain people. I’ve been consistent in my belief that regardless of whether the monument is removed or altered in some fashion or whether an interpretive marker is added is entirely up to the relevant parties.

I have a slightly different question that is all too often ignored in this debate. Even if we agree that the monument is problematic is there a way for the University of North Carolina to properly acknowledge, even commemorate, the students who died fighting for the Confederacy? We are talking about a generation of students that walked the same grounds, sat in some of the same buildings, were challenged by some of the same ideas as students today. In short, they are part of the community.

Assuming it is possible, what would an appropriate form of commemoration look like for these former students who died in war? How can it be done in a way that acknowledges the relevant history of the war and the fact that students today share a common experience with these men? I don’t expect civilized discourse about such sensitive issues in most placed these days, unless the community effected is one of our top universities.

44 thoughts on “What Should “Silent Sam” Say?

  1. Brad

    Tearing down statues makes me a bit queasy. The War, the people who fought for it from North Carolina, including the students at UNC (regardless of what I think of their goals), is part of our history and I just don’t think you can erase it by removing a statue.

    If anything, it should be maintained to show how people fought for a misguided purpose.

    Reply
    1. Jose

      Sir, while u may be queasy, I am throwing up! I think they fought for the Right Cause! There was a compact of sovereign states in 1860 called THESE United States; in 1865 there was a forced union called THE United States, and thus the empire began. Whatever happens from here on in you deserve it.

      Reply
      1. Kevin Levin Post author

        Thanks for the comment. Please folks let’s stick to the topic of the post. I am not going to allow this thread to be diverted to another discussion of causes. Thanks for your understanding.

        Reply
  2. Sam Vanderburg

    History is history, afterall. Some of it is not so nice and is rather offensive. However, it should be realized that even the terriblist of history has a lesson for us today. Yes, those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.

    Sam – but not the NC one!

    Reply
  3. Bob Huddleston

    On the west steps of the Colorado State Capitol Building is the inevitable Civil War Soldier — Yankee, of course — with a list of all the battles in which the Colorado Volunteers participated. Including the Battle of Sand Creek. Some years ago, rather than erase the name or put up a new marker, at some point a sign was placed next to it, explaining that Sand Creek was not a battle. Perhaps an explaining sign should be put by the UNC sign. Except that the UDC would be up in arms.

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  4. TF Smith1

    If the monument was placed in 1913 – 48 years after Appomatox – was it actually designed to be a war memorial, or something else?

    My guess is there was a much more “timely” point to the statue in 1913 than remembering men who had been in their graves for a half-century.

    A question I’d ask is when did the “first” Confederate memorial go up after 1865, and then consider what was going on at the University and in North Carolina in the early ‘teens that might have found expression through the fund-raising drive, dedication ceremony, etc.

    Best,

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  5. Pat Young

    I think there should be a recording of the dedication speech by Julian Carr, a founder of Duke University and donor to the fund that financed Sam. Carr was himself a Confederate veteran. He movingly recounted the changes he witnessed in race relations after the war:

    “The present generation…scarcely takes note 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, their courage and steadfastness saved the very life of the Anglo Saxon race in the South—When “the bottom rail was on top” all over the Southern states, and to-day, as a consequence, the purest strain of the Anglo Saxon is to be found in the 13 Southern States—Praise God!

    I trust I may be pardoned for one allusion, howbeit it is rather personal. One hundred yards from where we stand, less than ninety days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady, and then rushed for protection to these University buildings where was stationed a garrison of 100 Federal soldiers. I performed the pleasing duty in the immediate presence of the entire garrison…”

    Sam was a fitting tribute not just to the men willing to whip the uppity blacks of the post-war period without regard to the armed Federal troops in their midst, it also recalled the sacrifice of Southern women who preserved the purity of the white race by not having sex with black men. Could the students of UNC find a better avatar of the virtues of violence against black women and the suppression of the white female libido than in this speech that honored the man with the gun? With my proposed audio addition, 21st Century students will be reminded to keep the races separated lest the horse-whip be needed again. As Carr might have said to a biracial couple on their way to the white girl’s dorm “Don’t make me get out my whip.”

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      That would certainly add context to the current monument. I fully support such an addition, but I am still wondering what a monument might look like if we started over.

      Reply
      1. Pat Young

        If we were doing it over today, would we erect a monument at all? Perhaps a World War II-style commemoration along the lines of the “living memorial.” Use the money raised to establish the annual Confederate War Dead Non-Violent Resolution of Racial Conflict Symposium. This would attract attention annually to the personal loss suffered by these young men and their families, unlike the perpetual prop status of Silent Sam. Since the SHPG folks are always wondering how the dead would react to how they are remembered, I’m guessing that if the dead could speak, the ghosts of the Confederacy would look around the modern multi-culti UNC campus and whisper “Please don’t ever let another generation of these beautiful young people die over racial differences.”

        The dead have spoken.

        Reply
    2. Bob Huddleston

      “I trust I may be pardoned for one allusion, howbeit it is rather personal. One hundred yards from where we stand, less than ninety days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady, and then rushed for protection to these University buildings where was stationed a garrison of 100 Federal soldiers. I performed the pleasing duty in the immediate presence of the entire garrison…”

      I thought Pat was making this up — until I read the speech and saw that it is, indeed, a quote. So much for Southern Chivalry – - horse-whipping a “wench until her skirts hung in shreds” and fifty years later he is proud of doing it and brags to a crowd of admirers? When people brag about their support for the Confederacy this should be thrown back at them!

      Reply
      1. Kevin Levin Post author

        Unless you are Billy Bearden. He would have us worry about a student’s political beliefs. :-)

        Reply
        1. Ken Noe

          My hand and wrist are cut up this morning from trying to pull briars off a soldier’s grave I discovered in the church cemetery at Providence Canyon, Georgia. Billy’s compatriots recently made sure the Confederate graves had brand new battle flags, but they didn’t bother to cut any of the weeds away. So who honored that soldier more? Surely not the college professor. And yes, I left the flags there. And yes, that graveyard still needs tending.

          Reply
          1. Billy Bearden

            Ken,
            Much appreciated at the effort. My very own GGGrandfather’s grave and plot are almost lost to nature. I myself only own a lawnmower, but the site needs a bushhog, chainsaw, and other items of nature removing implements that I do not have the ability to obtain either by money from my own wallet nor do I know anyone with such equipment. Just because the briars, trees, and things are there, is no reason to say we don’t care. We do.

            Reply
  6. M.D. Blough

    Maybe adding another statue or interpetive plaque filling in the blanks and move “Silent Sam” to a less conspicuous spot, rather like the monument to the White League and its participation in the 1874 insurrection.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      UVA has a plaque on the Rotunda with the names of the students who died in the war. It seems to me that is a fitting tribute.

      Reply
  7. Billy Bearden

    Several articles have Zaina Alsous as organizer, and is a member of the Real Silent Sam group. NAACP William Barber is involved, yes, but not ‘leading the charge’

    Ms. Alsous is quite the Communist in her UNC political activities. It is her dedicated mission to destroy all American traditions and way of life. That she is involved here with Silent Sam is not at all surprising, just as her disrupting a recent public hearing on a Senate Bill and having to be escorted out by police. That NAACP Barber is joining them is more of the “remove the Battleflag from the historical display from the Old Capitol Bldg” racial discord the NAACP so loves to sell.

    Come on Kevin, that you would lend any credence to shakedown artists and College Communists gives me pause.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      First, the push to remove or add to the monument is much bigger than the individuals you reference here. If you bothered to read the post you would understand that I am not lending my support to much of anything here. How many times can I say that it is up to the school community what, if anything, should be done. In fact, you can read into my post that I actually support acknowledging the lives of the students who died in the war.

      Finally, why should I care whether anyone is a Communist or not? I have no idea what your political persuasion happens to be nor do I care. BTW, Ed Sebesta thinks I am a “banal white nationalist” so don’t think for a minute that I care that something I say ‘gives you pause.’

      Reply
    2. Pat Young

      Thanks Billy for alerting us to the clear and present danger posed by college student Zaina Alsous. I was frightened to learn that she wants to “destroy all American traditions and way of life”and that her chosen strategic path to that goal runs right through Silent Sam.

      I have never met Zaina, but apparently she heads a group called UNC Student Power. The group has four “demands” according to an article in The Nation:
      ___________________________
      Establishing gender-neutral housing on campus; placing a plaque on the statue of Silent Sam memorializing historical racial violence; demanding UNC end its investments in coal; and increasing student representation on the Board of Governors.
      Read more: http://www.thenation.com/blog/169936/unc-student-power-gathers-activists#ixzz2VFnjzFgm
      ___________________________

      She virtually cut and pasted these out of the Theses on Feuerbach.

      Reply
        1. Pat Young

          Here is the UNC Student Power proposal for non-gender specific housing:
          __________________________________
          The resolution resulted in the Department of Housing and Residential Education setting aside 32 spaces (1/3 of 1% of total available housing) for the gender non-specific housing pilot program. The pilot program allows students of different genders to share apartments or suites but would not allow students of different genders to share bedrooms. Students are required to opt into the program in order to participate. No additional expenditures are required to implement this pilot program.
          ___________________________________

          I could definitely see this destroying our way of life because in the U.S. men and women never live together in the same abode.

          Reply
  8. Sam Vanderburg

    Amazing how far this little blog traveled. I rather thought it was a historical one and not a social one. In all fairness I must say that social attitudes should be included in historical study. It is hard to remove the emotional aspect since we are human. I would agree with placing a historical marker commerating the oppression suffered by the slaves and then former slaves that were associated with UNC. Yet, I would not want to see a plaque on the Silent Sam statue. To me, a plaque seems rather small.

    Sam again

    Reply
  9. Brad

    Sam,

    There is already a plaque there and part of the inscription reads:

    “TO THE SONS OF THE UNIVERSITY / WHO ENTERED THE WAR OF 1861 – 65 / IN ANSWER TO THE CALL OF THEIR / COUNTRY AND WHOSE LIVES / TAUGHT THE LESSON OF / THEIR GREAT COMMANDER THAT / DUTY IS THE SUBLIMEST WORD / IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE.”

    Reply
  10. Sam Vanderburg

    That really does not seem to be a lot to fuss over. I have seen far more verbrose and honorific to Confederate veterans. Nor does it seem inappropriate to me.

    Reply
  11. TF Smith1

    God, I thought South Carolina was too small to be a republic and too large to be an asylum…

    The university should take the damn thing down, melt it down, and use the material to put up a monument honoring the North Carolinians – black and white – who fought FOR the union.

    Reply
    1. Sam Vandedrburg

      TF – Melting the statue would only be another modification of history in my view and in trying to be objective. The statue reflects the historical attitude of the day as much as Carr’s speech. It happened. It really should not be hidden. It should serve in its original purpose as well as remind us the fallacy of what the attitude was toward racial distinction and prejudice. We should be careful not to get caught up in the same type of attitude Carr exhibited – being prejudice – against something historical about which we do not agree.

      Reply
  12. Kevin Marshall

    Those men from North Carolina are American Veterans by an Act of Congress. Monuments to them are NO different than monuments to those who fought in the First Revolution and all of our wars after. They answered the call of their duly elected State Governments. Those men were patriots………not the villains some have tried to make them out to be. Here in Charleston, or Folly Beach to be more specific, a monument was erected to the 54th Mass and not one person had anything negative to say about it. If those of us here in the South are willing to honor brave men who made the supreme sacrifice AGAINST our people it would seem that in this case the HATE is all on the OTHER side.

    Greetings from Charleston!
    Kevin

    Reply
    1. Dave Stilwell

      Well, I agree that most of them suffered a lot, and shouldn’t be vilified completely since we can’t really know all of their motivations, but they were traitors — there is no logical way to deny that. The levied war against their country, the UNITED States of America, and the only state “right” that was truly involved was the right to keep human beings in bondage. The word hero cannot be applied to them.

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  13. Pat Young

    I’ve often heard Reconstruction called The Second American Revolution but it had not occurred to me that that means that 1776 was The First Revolution.

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  14. Kevin Marshall

    Dave,
    Traitors? If that was the case then why were there no trials at the close of the late war? This quote is VERY instructive.

    “If you bring these leaders to trial, it will condemn the North, for by the Constitution, secession is not rebellion…His [Jefferson Davis'] capture was a mistake. His trial will be a greater one. We cannot convict him of treason.”

    Salmon P. Chase
    Chief Justice Supreme Court

    Pat,
    The First Revolution was in 1776. The second was in 1860 and was an extension of the first. The only difference between Genl Washington and Genl Lee is that Genl Washington WON.

    Best wishes,
    Kevin

    Reply
    1. Pat Young

      So Reconstruction is the Third Revolution by that reckoning?

      In what sense was the secession movement revolutionary? It would seem to have been more of a regional separatist movement. In what sense did it attempt to overturn existing structures or institutions, apart from separating from the U.S.?

      Reply
      1. Kevin Marshall

        Pat,
        What was the Revolution 0f ’76 then in your view? The Dec of Independence is QUITE clear on the subject.

        Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

        The power of ANY government is in the CONSENT of the people. In 1860 the national government no longer enjoyed the consent of the Southern States and that is all it takes.

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    2. Dave Stilwell

      Kevin,

      You’re right, no trials, nor formal charges of treason because we decided as a nation that defeat and destruction was punishment enough. A nation may do great things in the name of reconciliation but that doesn’t make the traitors heroes, does it? To the British, yes — GW was no different that Robert E. Lee — to Americans….?

      Best Wishes, DAVE

      P.S The Constitution does not permit nor even use the word “secession” as far as I know. The Preamble says “We the people” form this Union, not “We the several independent states”

      Reply
      1. Kevin Marshall

        Dave,
        There were no trials because as the Chief Justice said “it would condemn the North”. Your argument about the preamble to the Constitution is a non-starter because the PEOPLE, in convention, DID ratify the Constitution. Why then were the people, in convention, not allowed to UNRATIFY it in the same manner?

        Reply
  15. Chris Evans

    In these situations I like to remember what Ambrose Bierce the great author and Union soldier had to say about some Confederate graves he visited after the war in West Virginia in his wonderful little short story ‘A Bivouac of the Dead’:

    ‘They were honest and courageous foemen, having little in common with the political madmen who persuaded them to their doom and the literary bearers of false witness in the aftertime. They did not live through the period of honorable strife into the period of vilification–did not pass from the iron age to the brazen–from the era of the sword to that of the tongue and pen. Among them is no member of the Southern Historical Society. Their valor was not the fury of the non-combatant; they have no voice in the thunder of the civilians and the shouting. Not by them are impaired the dignity and infinite pathos of the Lost Cause. Give them, these blameless gentlemen, their rightful part in all the pomp that fills the circuit of the summer hills.’

    Chris

    Reply
  16. Mike from Ottawa

    Perhaps a new statue should be put up alongside Silent Sam showing Julian Carr acting out his little black-woman beating vignette from his dedication speech along with an explanatory plaque.

    Reply

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