Chancellor Carol Folt and the trustees of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have come up with a solution for "Silent Sam," the campus Confederate monument that was toppled by protesters in August. Their solution is guaranteed to please no one — which means it's probably the best compromise anyone could reach.
Instead of re-erecting Sam on his pedestal at the virtual front door of campus, UNC Chapel Hill officials are proposing that the statue be moved to a to-be-built history center on a far less prominent corner of campus. It would be the centerpiece of a facility on the university's history, where Sam's historical context, tied up in decades of white supremacy, can be addressed.
Presumably, the building can be secured as necessary to keep out more self-appointed demolition crews. Officials need the OK of the UNC System board of governors as well as $5 million to build the campus-history center.
(Because of a state law, removing the statue off campus is not an option.)
Of course, many of the students and faculty think Sam has no place at all on campus. And the proposal won't please the neo-Confederates who want Sam back exactly where he was.
Still, getting rid of Sam can't get make history go away. Like many universities, Chapel Hill profited from the proceeds of slavery. Its leaders endorsed Jim Crow policies and prevented black students from enrolling until the 1950s.
Someone has to make note of this, and keeping Sam around, in a corner, as an artifact of a shameful past, might be the most mature solution. This is 21st-century America, though, and rational maturity doesn't always win.
(We note that the proposal matches our thinking on the Confederate monuments in this area; historical context and current setting are vital. There is a big difference between a monument presented in a manner to recount history and a monument presented in a manner that honors a cause.)
Even if the Sam question gets settled, UNC won't be free of controversy. A campus building honors Julian Shakespeare Carr, a Confederate veteran and Durham tycoon. In a speech at Sam's dedication in 1913, Carr described, with some relish, slapping a "black wench" who had disrespected a white woman.
That deflates the argument that the statue is a neutral monument to students who'd served in the Civil War — about "heritage, not hate." Carr made clear what cause the statue represented.
Over at Duke University, the trustees have already voted to rename Duke's Carr Building. One suspects the Chapel Hill trustees, too, will have to refight the Civil War before long.
Let's hope cool heads prevail.
REPRINTED FROM THE NEW BERN SUN JOURNAL