NAACP Chapel Hill-Carrboro Branch Statement supporting removal of Silent Sam
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) supports the immediate removal of the Silent Sam statue from the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill campus.
To anyone that values human dignity, the Silent Sam statue blatantly celebrates the well-established myth of white superiority and the degrading inhumane violence necessary to maintain it. To the old racist order of North Carolina, Silent Sam is a valiant and nostalgic guardian of the honor of southern white women.
Between the narrow differences of these perceptions lies the justification for unspeakable suffering of African-Americans in North Carolina—from the more than 360,000 human beings of African descent enslaved by white American land owners to the thousands of black people lynched here and extending through the reign of Jim Crow to today, where North Carolina’s legislature doggedly clings to protecting racially gerrymandered voting districts.
In his 1913 Silent Sam dedication speech, Julian Carr, a former confederate soldier, described how he horse whipped “a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds because she had maligned and insulted 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."
African-Americans see exactly what those who built Silent Sam intended for them to see and feel—the intrusive and intimidating symbolism of a regional culture obsessed with perpetuating racism and violence. Protests over Silent Sam are not new. Fifty years ago, in 1968, some of our African-American Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP branch members were students at UNC and protested against the statue’s place on campus. Their pleas were denied.
Frequently, groups of UNC faculty members unite and plead for the statue to be removed with eloquent, soaring and irrefutable arguments. These arguments create no change.
As recently as 2013, on the 100n year commemoration of the statue, UNC had an opportunity to address Silent Sam. Among many creative solutions, protesters argued that the statue could be placed in a confederate history museum. Those with power chose to do nothing. In fact, the only action taken is a patchwork of obfuscative restrictive laws on historic monuments passed by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2015—all basically making it almost impossible to remove any confederate statue.
Ironically, also in 2015, South Carolina stopped flying its confederate battle flag on state buildings. This came at the end of a lengthy boycott from the NAACP and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), one that cost South Carolina’s economy millions of dollars in lost tourism and prestige. But here in North Carolina, far from marching off into history, Silent Sam seems to be growing deep roots in UNC soil, roots that choke the very spirit of justice and enlightenment in a place that should exemplify these values.
That’s why UNC student Maya Little recently dumped her blood and paint on Silent Sam, explaining that the statue remains “drenched in black blood.” Maya is correct.
Maya perceived of UNC as a place that should act to protect her from symbolic racist assault. UNC has shown her that assumption is wrong, steadfast maintaining its footing in racist symbolism. That such a dreadful object whose sole purpose is to celebrate murderous racist violence and terror remains in what should be a place of public honor is a daily affront to all of us.
The Silent Sam statue may actually be a clear and present danger to public safety. When young white men commit acts of mass violence and terrorism, invariably, racist symbols and racist allegiances turn up in the computers, magazines and papers they leave behind. We should, therefore, be concerned that we may actually be encouraging murderous racist acts by impressionable young people by displaying racist symbols like Silent Sam in public places.
What signal are we sending to these youngsters other than “Get a gun and you, too, can be a modern day Silent Sam!” Or are we sending an even worse signal—one we can glean from our sister state to the south?
While the NAACP boycott of South Carolina was costly to the state and hurt its reputation over an extended period of time, South Carolina officials made no moves to retire their confederate flag until a young vicious murderer—one captured in several photographs draped in South Carolina’s battle flag—viciously and mercilessly killed nine African-American churchgoers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston. Maybe the reason South Carolina finally acted was that the horrific murders left no way to escape the shame inherent in the symbolism of their battle flag. Symbols matter. Symbols influence. Will it take a similar act before we act here?
On the positive side, here in North Carolina some local governments are attempting to respond to recent increases in symbols of white supremacy on public property.
According to the Herald-Sun, the frequency of neo-Nazi displays has increased 57 percent between 2016 and 2017. The City of Durham recently removed neo-Nazi stickers and violence-inciting anti-Jewish posters from its public downtown areas and maintains a hotline people can use when they see similar materials displayed on public property. Several massive confederate flags were recently displayed in Hillsborough. The Hillsborough city council quickly placed limitations on the size of such flags. The flag displayers then quickly moved their displays just outside of Hillsborough on Orange County property.
We understand the Orange County Commissioners are meeting to enact similar restrictions of the size of such flag displays. We support swift action from them and encourage all NAACP members and supporters to encourage Orange County Commissioners to quickly pass reasonable restrictions on such displays.
Our NAACP branch is evaluating our go-forward options. Our members have been lobbying various responsible parties for more than fifty years now. UNC is not acting as an honorable institution and excuses about statutes and regulations are just that—excuses designed to dodge responsibility, obfuscate and delay.
The time has come. There is no excuse for allowing the Silent Sam to remain on the UNC campus another moment.