Silent Sam The Confederate Monument at the University of North Carolina

James Leloudis, Professor of History, and Cecelia Moore, Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

On August 20, 2018, campus and community activists pulled down the statue that stood atop UNC's Confederate monument. Known by the nickname "Silent Sam," the statue had presided over the north entrance to campus for more than a century.
That event was the culmination of student-led protests that dated back to the 1960s and had taken on new urgency in the wake of white supremacist violence in Charleston, South Carolina and Charlottesville, Virginia. It occurred at a time when communities across the South were debating the presence of similar monuments in public spaces.
On January 14, 2019 Chancellor Carol L. Folt announced her resignation and authorized removal of the monument's remaining pedestal and commemorative plaques. Three months earlier, she had issued an apology for UNC's role in the “profound injustices of slavery” and expressed a desire to see the monument relocated off campus.
Later in the year, the University of North Carolina System’s board of governors negotiated in secret to transfer ownership of the monument to the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The board instructed the Chapel Hill campus to give the group $2.5 million to cover the costs of relocation and long-term preservation. A superior court judge subsequently voided the deal.
This digital exhibit was created at the height of the controversy over Silent Sam to help visitors understand the history of Confederate monuments. It takes its cue – somewhat ironically – from UNC president Francis P. Venable. In 1913, while raising funds to erect Silent Sam, he promised that the statue would stand through the ages as a "lesson for the living."
The story told here has continuing relevance today, as Americans – and people in many other parts of the world – confront systemic problems of racial inequity and injustice laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic and the killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and others whose names we may never know.
There were two waves of Confederate memorialization after the Civil War. In the first, which began in the late 1860s and stretched into the 1880s, communities put up monuments to mourn the dead. Most were located in cemeteries.
In 1883-85, near the end of that era, UNC built Memorial Hall, an auditorium dedicated to the memory of university president David Lowry Swain; alumni who "fell in the service of the Confederate states"; and "others connected with the university" who deserved commemoration.
Marble tablets bearing the names of the university's Confederate dead were mounted above the rostrum, at the end of the building’s center aisle.
Today, the tablets (one of which is shown here) flank the stage in the new Memorial Hall, built in 1930-31 to replace the original structure.
The Confederate dead are also included in the Carolina Alumni Memorial in Memory of Those Lost in Military Service, dedicated beside Memorial Hall in 2007.
UNC erected "Silent Sam" during the second wave of memorialization, which took place in the early decades of the 20th century. At that time, civic leaders raised statues of Confederate soldiers in courthouse squares and similarly prominent public spaces.
Changes in the pace of construction and the location of Confederate monuments in North Carolina.
Construction of these new monuments occurred at the end of a long struggle over the freedom and citizenship rights of former slaves and their descendants. That conflict began with emancipation and stretched through the closing years of the 1890s.
In North Carolina, the racial strife culminated in violent political campaigns for white supremacy in 1898 and 1900. The victors secured white rule by stripping the right to vote from men of color and imposing the oppressive system of racial apartheid known as Jim Crow.
The erection of soldier monuments followed in quick succession. By 1926, 53 of them stood in public spaces across the state. Only two had been built before 1900.

University president Francis Venable and leaders of the North Carolina Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) began to plan and raise funds for UNC's Confederate monument in 1908. Five years later, they dedicated it during June graduation exercises.

Governor Locke Craig, the first speaker at the dedication, took his cue from one of the bronze plaques on the statue's pedestal. It read: "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."

Those students were not poor boys drafted into military service, Craig noted. "They came from homes of plenty and culture." They were the sons of a slaveholding elite, heirs to "the highest places of honor and power." Robert E. Lee was their Great Commander, and their Country was the Confederate States of America.
At the beginning of the Civil War, Confederate vice president Alexander H. Stephens said of that new nation: "its foundations are laid … upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery – subordination to the superior race – is his natural and normal condition."
UNC's soldier monument honored the "chivalry and devotion" of university men who fought for Confederate principles, Governor Craig declared. "We unveil and dedicate [it] as a covenant that we too will do our task with fidelity and courage."
That covenant was the foundation stone of Craig's own political career. In 1898, he had launched the Democratic Party's campaign for white rule alongside UNC classmate Charles Brantley Aycock. Newspapers reported that "with burning words” the "young apostles … pleaded for the return of white supremacy."
Mary Lyde Williams, president of the North Carolina Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, spoke for the women who helped to plan and finance UNC's monument. She described it as one of more than 700 sentinels "to the Southern Cause" that the UDC had erected throughout the former Confederate states.
Souvenir postcard of the Ku Klux Klan banner purchased by the North Carolina Division of the UDC.

Though defeated on the battlefield, that cause lived on through the white South's violent rejection of racial equality. North Carolina's UDC women declared their allegiance in 1905, when they purchased "a genuine Ku Klux Banner" that had been used in the state during Reconstruction. They celebrated the acquisition with a mock Klan rally and then sent the banner off for display in the North Carolina Room at the Confederate Museum in Richmond.

The women later commissioned Williams, an accomplished artist, to paint a portrait of Randolph A. Shotwell, Confederate "Soldier and Martyr," to "hang beneath the Ku Klux flag." In 1871-72, Shotwell served time in federal prison for his association with the Klan. When the UDC unveiled his portrait in 1909, Walter Taylor, a fellow "leader among the Klan," presided in full Ku Klux costume.

Civic leaders across North Carolina praised the UDC women for marshaling history in service to white rule. In 1910, banker James B. Ramsey welcomed the state division's annual convention to Rocky Mount. "You were the song of the Old South," he told his city's guests, "and to-day we find you banded together, United Daughters of the Confederacy, all still loyal to Southern rights, democracy, and, thank God, to white supremacy."

Alumnus Julian S. Carr – a Confederate veteran, leading industrialist, and university trustee – followed Mary Williams in the dedication program. Today, he is remembered for the cruel story he told of whipping a black woman in Chapel Hill.
From "The Outrage in North Carolina," Harper's Weekly, September 14, 1867. The article described the flogging of a young black woman who failed to show proper deference to whites. Her story bore resemblance to that of the Chapel Hill woman beaten by Julian Carr.

"One hundred yards from where we stand," Carr told his audience, "less than ninety days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because on the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a [white] Southern lady." Carr boasted that he "performed the pleasing duty in the immediate presence" of Union soldiers garrisoned on campus, and "for thirty nights afterwards slept with a double-barrel shot gun" to protect himself from reprisal.

Carr linked his story to the purpose that distinguished UNC's new Confederate monument from memorials erected decades earlier as expressions of mourning.

The monument honored all university men who fought for the Confederacy – the living as well as the dead, and most especially the veterans who waged the postwar campaign to restore white rule. For those veterans, as for Carr, service to the Confederate cause "did not end at Appomattox." In peacetime, they answered racial equality with acts of terror. They "saved the very life of the Anglo-Saxon race," Carr declared. "Praise God."

Henry A. London – alumnus, newspaper editor, and trustee – offered a similar version of history, in which the Confederacy was never truly defeated and its principles endured. "As one of the students of this University who left its halls as a soldier of the Confederacy," he said, "I appreciate most highly this monument erected in memory of my comrades both dead and living. May it forever remain as an object lesson to teach all future generations … that the sons of this University were willing to suffer and, if need be, sacrifice their lives in their devotion to duty. We thought then we were right, and now we know it (emphasis in the original)."

Those words echoed a prayer offered at a North Carolina UDC convention. The presiding chaplain described a scene from Heaven, where an "old Confederate soldier looks down from the sky and laughs as he sees the principles for which he fought established, the great battle for the Constitution, States' rights, white supremacy, all – the South has conquered."
Granville County monument, Oxford, N.C.

Such sentiments were not attached to UNC's monument alone. Speakers at other dedication ceremonies across the state connected race and Confederate remembrance in similar ways.

In 1909, at the laying of the cornerstone of Granville County's monument, Governor William W. Kitchin described white supremacy and the violence that sustained it as simple facts of Nature.
“We have seen the white man come in contact with the brown man of the tropics, and the brown man went down,” Kitchin observed. “We have seen him knock at the gates of the yellow man in the East, and they opened at his will.”
“We have seen him face the black man in his native African home, and the black man gave him the path. We have seen him press the red man, and the red man is disappearing from the face of the earth.” The white man’s “march has sometimes been cruel,” Kitchin conceded, but his right to rule was undeniable.
Kitchin believed that Confederate veterans understood that truth better than others. He spoke to them directly and praised their wisdom: “You see what the whole country is beginning to recognize, that it is not in the power of all the armies ever drilled or of all the constitutions ever written to make the white and black races equal."
Confederate veteran and UNC alumnus John C. McLauchlin sounded a similar theme in 1906 at the dedication of the monument in Anson County. He reminded his audience that "our Anglo-Saxon ancestors wrested this land from the savages, built its homes, its cities and towns, its schools and colleges, its churches and asylums."
McLauchlin recalled that even in defeat he and fellow veterans refused to surrender that heritage to an "inferior and numerous race” of former slaves. They instead took up the “heroic task of redeeming their State … and committing her destinies into the hands of her native white citizens.”

A history of the Ku Klux Klan written for schoolchildren and endorsed by the national UDC celebrated men like McLauchlin as "the bravest of the brave." Laura Martin Rose, later the UDC's historian-general, published the book in 1914, a year after the dedication of UNC's Confederate monument.

In a single passage, Rose captured the main themes of that unveiling and hundreds like it throughout the South: white men's duty to their race and the sacrificial service of soldiers who fought first on the battlefield and then on the home front to defend "Anglo-Saxon Supremacy."

"The record of the Ku Klux Klan teaches … the grandeur of the 'Men who wore the Gray,' the Confederate soldiers, the real Ku Klux. They were not only great in war, but great in peace, and great in the performance of every Duty, which Robert E. Lee, the mightiest military chieftain the world ever saw, pronounced, 'The sublimest word in the English language.'"

Advertisement for Laura Martin Rose's history of the Klan, from the Confederate Veteran magazine, October 1914.
These were the ideas that university president Francis Venable and trustee Julian Carr invoked when they described UNC's Confederate monument as a "brilliant lesson in bronze and granite to all coming generations of students.” It stood, they said, for "courage and steadfastness" in fulfilling the duties of white manhood.
That lesson's appeal reached well beyond the boundaries of a single campus, state, or region. It spoke to people throughout the nation who thought of the United States as a white man's country and longed for the reconciliation of North and South on that basis.
In 1915, D. W. Griffith captured that racial desire in his epic film, “The Birth of a Nation.” He adapted the screenplay from historical novels written by Thomas F. Dixon Jr., a Southern Baptist preacher, North Carolina legislator, lawyer, playwright, and champion of white supremacy.
"The Birth of a Nation" cast the battle for racial dominion as a heroic tale of Confederate veterans-turned-Ku Klux Klansmen who saved white womanhood and white civilization from the supposed evils of "negro domination."
North and South reconciled in an advertisement for "The Birth of a Nation" at the Orpheum Theatre in Fargo, North Dakota

The film celebrated an America born anew, redeemed, said one contemporary, by the Confederate veteran's stand "for his race, his people, and his land." It thrilled white audiences nationwide and so impressed President Woodrow Wilson that he had it shown in the White House.

Shortly before his death in 1895, abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglass warned against reconciliation on those terms. "I am not indifferent to the claims of a generous forgiveness," he declared, "but whatever else I may forget, I shall never forget the difference between those who fought for liberty and those who fought for slavery."
Douglass urged Americans to heal the nation and safeguard its democratic principles by venerating the patriots who "saved their country to peace, to union, and to liberty."
In our time, Douglass's admonition has largely faded from public memory. Many people think of the statues of Confederate soldiers only as veterans memorials. But for the monument builders, they meant something more.
Those men and women, by their own accounts, erected the statues to mark the imposition of a racial order structured along strict lines of separation and inequality. This was the regime of Jim Crow, enforced by both law and extra-legal violence.
Noting that intent, some dissenting whites accused the monument builders of abusing the Confederate dead. "Our Southern soldiers were heroes," one critic wrote to a Winston newspaper in 1907. "But is it to their memory that these monuments are being erected?"
No, he answered. The monuments did less to honor the dead than to proclaim a defiant "Confederate Spirit." Their purpose was “to teach and perpetuate a species of opposition” to the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law.
Today, there is a growing consensus that Confederate monuments – whether toppled or removed – do not belong in places of public honor. That reckoning is long overdue. For more than a century, the statues have stood as sentinels of white supremacy, crowding out the stories of people who sought to create a more just and equitable future.
Those people included enslaved men and women who set themselves free amid the turmoil of war; southerners – black, white, and American Indian – who took up arms to defend the United States against the Confederacy; and citizens of good conscience, North and South, who strove to create an inclusive democracy in the post-Civil War years.
An inclusive vision for a multi-racial, multi-ethnic America, Harper's Weekly, November 20, 1869

Their voices call to us from the past. What might they teach us about the unresolved legacies of the Civil War? And how might they inform the future we build for ourselves and later generations?

To know the answers, we must make room to listen and to learn. We must acknowledge the destructive heritage of white supremacy and reckon at last with the unfulfilled promise of Emancipation.

James L. Leloudis, Professor of History and co-chair, UNC Commission on History, Race, and a Way Forward; and Cecelia Moore, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

©️ 2017-2020

With research assistance from Rob Shapard, PhD, and Brian Fennessy, doctoral candidate in History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Quotations, in order of presentation: "UNC Leader Apologizes for Slavery and Says School Will "Right the Wrongs of History,'" Raleigh News and Observer, October 12, 2018; Francis P. Venable to F. H. Rogers, May 16, 1913, folder 987, University of North Carolina Papers, University of North Carolina Archives #40005; Kemp P. Battle, History of the University of North Carolina, vol. 2 (Raleigh: Edwards and Broughton Printing Company, 1912), 323 (cited text from the dedication plaque corrects typographical errors in Battle); "Notable Events Mark Class Day at the University," Raleigh News and Observer, June 3, 1913; Alexander H. Stephens, "Speech Delivered on the 21st March, 1861, in Savannah, Known as 'The Corner Stone Speech,' Reported in the Savannah Republican," in Henry Cleveland, Alexander H. Stephens, In Public and Private, with Letters and Speeches, Before, During, and Since the War (Philadelphia: National Publishing Company, 1866), 721; "White Men to the Front," The Wilmington Messenger, May 13, 1898; "Monument to Student Soldiers," Wilmington Morning Star, June 15, 1913; Minutes of the Ninth Annual Convention of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, North Carolina Division, October 3-5, 1905 (Newton: Enterprise Job Print., 1906), 46; Minutes of the Twelfth Annual Convention of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, North Carolina Division, October 13-15, 1908 (Newton: Enterprise Job Print., 1909), 82; Minutes of the Thirteenth Annual Convention of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, North Carolina Division, October 13-15, 1909 (Newton: Enterprise Print, 1910), 11-17; Minutes of the Fourteenth Annual Convention of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, North Carolina Division, October 12-14, 1910 (n.p.: n.p., n.d.), 8; Unveiling of Confederate Monument at University, June 2, 1913, series 2.2, folder 26, scans 93-112, Julian Shakespeare Carr Papers, Southern Historical Collection #00141; Dedication of Monument, typescript, Cp378 .UK34, North Carolina Collection; Minutes of the Third Annual Meeting of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, North Carolina Division, October 11-12, 1899 (Raleigh: Capital Printing Company, 1900), 5; speech fragments, series 3, folder 60, William W. Kitchin Papers, Southern Historical Collection #04018, and "The Governor's Speech," Oxford Public Ledger, November 5, 1909; "Corner Stone Laid," The Messenger and Intelligencer (Wadesboro), January 18, 1906; Mrs. S.E.F. (Laura Martin) Rose, Ku Klux Klan, or Invisible Empire (New Orleans: L. Graham Co., 1914), Introduction and 51-52; Francis P. Venable, Acceptance of the Monument, series 4, subseries on education, folder 128, scans 1-2, Francis Preston Venable Papers, Southern Historical Collection #04368, and Unveiling of Confederate Monument at University, June 2, 1913 (above); review of "Birth of a Nation," The Moving Picture World, March 13, 1915, 1587; Armistead Burwell, "The Ideal Confederate Soldier," an address at the unveiling of the Confederate monument in Cornelius, N.C., August 4, 1910, pamphlet, Cp970.76 .B97i, North Carolina Collection; "Decoration Day, A Verbatim Report of the Address of Frederick Douglass at Franklin Square, Rochester, N.Y.," 1894, Speech, Article, and Book File, Frederick Douglass Papers, Library of Congress; "Will Mr. London Answer," and "Did Not Die at Appomattox," Winston (now Winston-Salem) Union Republican, August 29, 1907. The University Archives, North Carolina Collection, and Southern Historical Collection are located in The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Photographs, in order of presentation: UNC Confederate monument, by Anne Mitchell Whisnant; Soldiers’ Monument postcard, North Carolina Postcards, North Carolina Collection; "Protest Held at UNC"s Silent Sam Statue," ABC11.com, October 25, 2015; removal of the Confederate monument's pedestal, by James Leloudis, January 15, 2019; Silent Sam, by Juande Mondria; UNC Confederate monument with visitors, Wikimedia Commons; Black Lives Matter protest in Manchester, England, June 4, 2020, in "Mourners Remember Floyd in North Carolina as Thousands Protest Across the Nation," Minnesota Public Radio News, June 6, 2020; first Confederate monument in North Carolina, 1868, Cross Creek Cemetery, Fayetteville, North Carolina Civil War Monuments; old Memorial Hall exterior, old Memorial Hall interior, new Memorial Hall exterior, and Confederate Memorial Plaque, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives (hereafter, NCCPA); Carolina Alumni Memorial in Memory of Those Lost in Military Service, by William Yeung; Cleveland County Confederate monument, North Carolina Civil War Monuments; North Carolina Confederate monuments chart, by Jason Clemmons, based on information available on the Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina web site; Emancipation: The Past and The Future, Harper's Weekly, January 24, 1863, printed in color by King & Baird, Philadelphia, 1865, Library Company of Philadelphia; white supremacy mementos, North Carolina Collection; Alamance County Confederate monument, Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina; UNC Confederate monument plaques, by Cecelia Moore, and Confederate Monument, UNC, Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina; General Robert E. Lee and staff, Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (hereafter, LCPPD); Hon. Alexander H. Stephens, NARA identifier 528511, Mathew Brady Photographs of Civil War-Era Personalities and Scenes, Records of the War Department, Office of the Chief Signal Officer, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland; Programme at the Unveiling of the Confederate Monument at the University of North Carolina, June 2, 1913, University Ephemera Collection, North Carolina Collection; Locke Craig, Bain Collection, LCPPD; Mrs. Marshall McDiarmid (Mary Lyde) Williams, Archibald Henderson, North Carolina: The Old North State and the New, vol. 5 (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1941), plate preceding 49; Ku Klux Klan banner, Greg Huffman, "The Group Behind Confederate Monuments Also Built a Memorial to the Klan," Facing South blog, June 8, 2018; Randolph Abbott Shotwell, NCPedia; front coverMinutes of the Fourteenth Annual Convention of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, North Carolina Division, October 12-14, 1910; Julian Shakespeare Carr, NCCPA; "The Outrage in North Carolina," Harper's Weekly, September 14, 1867; Unveiling of the Confederate Monument, June 2, 1913, North Carolina Postcards, North Carolina Collection; Henry Armand London, Isaac S. London, Pictures and Sketches of My Son (Rockingham, N.C.: I.S. London, 1947), 34; Confederate Veterans Reunion, Washington, D.C., 1917, National Photo Company Collection, LCPPD; cover, [Corner Stone of Confederate Monument Laid] (Orphanage Press: Oxford, N.C., 1909); William Walton Kitchin, Harris & Ewing Collection, LCPPD; Uncle Sam – Guess I'll Keep 'EmLeslie's Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, June 9, 1898, colorized version from Abe Ignacio, Enrique de la Cruz, Jorge Emmanuel, and Helen Toribio, The Forbidden Book: The Philippine-American War in Political Cartoons (San Francisco: T’Boli Publishing, 2004), 18; Three Sioux in Ghost Dance costumes, Charles R. Savage Photograph Collection, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, via Mountain West Digital Library; United Confederate Veterans commemorative postage stamp, 1951, Wikimedia Commons; John Calvin McLauchlin and Mary Elizabeth Caraway McLauchlin, Find a Grave; Anson County Confederate monument, North Carolina Civil War Monuments; frontispiece and title page, Mrs. S.E.F. (Laura Martin) Rose, Ku Klux Klan, or Invisible Empire (New Orleans: L. Graham Co., 1914); advertisement for Rose, Ku Klux Klan, from Confederate Veteran 22 (October 1914), 477; UNC sophomore class, 1907, NCCPA; Brother v. Brother, Taylor Finley, Early Appalachian Photographer, Images by Romano, Summersville, W.V.; "The Birth of a Nation" theatrical poster, Wikimedia Commons; "The Birth of a Nation" screenshot, the Everett Collection; "The Birth of a Nation" movie postcard, Orpheum Theater, Fargo, N.D., Institute for Regional Studies, Archives Artifacts Mss 1597, North Dakota State University Libraries, Fargo, N.D.; Frederick Douglass, Brady-Handy Photograph Collection, LCPPD; soldier group, Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints, Civil War Photographs, 1861-1865, LCPPD; UNC Confederate monument close-up, by Matt Couch, WUNC Radio; drinking fountain on the county courthouse lawn, Halifax County, N.C., Farm Security Administration, Office of War Information Collection, LCPPD; front inscription, Confederate monument, state capitol grounds, Raleigh, Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina; close-up of the Confederate monument in Sylva, Cory Vaillancourt, Smoky Mountain News; "To Cheers and Music, Workers Dismantling 75-foot Confederate Monument at N.C. Capitol," News and Observer, June 21, 2020; North Carolina native Parker David Robbins, Sergeant, 2nd Regiment, U.S. Colored Cavalry, North Carolina Museum of History; "Uncle Sam's Thanksgiving Dinner," Harper's Weekly, November 20, 1869; Silent Sam, NCCPA. The North Carolina Collection and North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives are located in Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

For additional archival sources, see: Guide to Researching Campus Monuments and Buildings: "Silent Sam" Confederate Monument, and Guide to Resources About UNC's Confederate Monument.

To learn more about Confederate monuments in North Carolina, see: Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina and North Carolina Civil War Monuments. The department of history at UNC has compiled a list of additional resources related to Silent Sam and Confederate monuments more generally, available here.