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Silent Sam The Confederate Monument at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Since 1913, UNC's Confederate monument — known locally by the nickname Silent Sam — has presided over the north entrance to McCorkle Place, the oldest part of campus. It is often the first thing a visitor sees.
The statue is not "merely a monument to the dead," university leaders explained when it was erected. They also intended it as "a lesson for the living."
What lesson does the Confederate monument teach? Many people view it as a symbol of persistent racism and our national failure to reckon with the legacies of slavery. Others counter that its purpose is not to promote racial animosity, but to honor the valor of Confederate soldiers who died in the nation’s bloodiest war.
How are we to judge these claims? One place to start is with the history of the monument itself, and of the time in which it was erected.
There were two waves of Confederate memorialization. In the first, which began soon after the Civil War and stretched into the 1880s, communities constructed monuments, most often in cemeteries, to mourn the dead.
In 1883-85, near the end of that era, UNC built Memorial Hall, an auditorium dedicated to the memory of David Lowry Swain, president of the university from 1835 until his death in 1868; alumni who "fell in the service of the Confederate states"; and others "connected with the university, who, by honorable lives, in civil or military service," 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 (the first of eight 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 monument building in North Carolina and in the location of Confederate memorials.
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 an 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 leaders and the United Daughters of the Confederacy began to plan and raise funds for UNC's Confederate statue in 1908. Five years later, they dedicated it during June graduation exercises.

Alumnus Julian S. Carr, a Confederate veteran, leading industrialist, and university trustee, delivered the keynote address. He drew a clear distinction between the statue and older expressions of mourning.
Carr explained that the new monument honored not only alumni who died for the Confederacy, but also veterans who fought on after the South's defeat to re-establish government by and for whites only. Those men “saved the very life of the Anglo-Saxon race," he declared. "Praise God.”
Carr (shown here as a young private) drove the point home by telling a story of his personal determination to enforce white supremacy. "One hundred yards from where we stand," he 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.
Speakers at other dedication ceremonies connected white supremacy and Confederate remembrance in similar ways. In 1909, at the unveiling of Granville County's monument, North Carolina governor William W. Kitchin celebrated racial violence as a civilizing force and the will 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."
University leaders invoked such ideas 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 reached well beyond the boundaries of campus, state, and 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.
In 1915, D. W. Griffith captured that racial desire in his epic film, “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 ardent champion of white supremacy.
"Birth of a Nation" cast the battle for racial dominion as a heroic tale of Confederate veterans-turned-Ku Klux Klansmen who, in the aftermath of the Civil War, saved white womanhood and white civilization from the supposed evils of "negro domination."
North and South reconciled in an advertisement for "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, between those who fought to save the Republic and those who fought to destroy it."
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 as simple veterans memorials. But for the monument builders, they meant much 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 forced separation and inequality.
Noting that intent, some dissenting whites accused the monument builders of abusing the Confederate dead. "Our Southern soldiers were heroes," one critic wrote. "No braver men ever fell in battle, but is it to their memory that these monuments are being erected?" No, he said. The monuments stood as sentinels to a defiant "Confederate Spirit," and as such, their purpose was “to teach and perpetuate a species of opposition” to the Constitution, equal citizenship, and the rule of law.
Today, we live with Confederate monuments that, whatever else they may represent, bear the stain of white supremacy. For more than a century they have dominated the public square and crowded out the stories of people who stood for 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.
Their stories call to us from the past. What might they teach us, and how might they inspire our lives today? To know the answers, we must make room to listen and to learn.

James L. Leloudis, Professor of History, and Cecelia Moore, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Copyright 2018.

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: 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), p. 323; Unveiling of Confederate Monument at University, June 2, 1913, series 2.2, folder 26, Julian Shakespeare Carr Papers, Southern Historical Collection #00141; 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; Francis P. Venable, Acceptance of the Monument, series 4, subseries on education, folder 128, 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, p. 1587; Armistead Burwell, "The Ideal Confederate Soldier," an address at the unveiling of the Confederate monument in Cornelius, N.C., August 4, 1910 (Cp 970.76 .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-Salem Union Republican, August 29, 1907. The University Archives, North Carolina Collection, and Southern Historical Collection are located in Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Photographs, in order of presentation: Silent Sam, by Anne Mitchell Whisnant; Silent Sam postcard, 1913, North Carolina Postcards, North Carolina Collection; Silent Sam with visitors, Wikimedia Commons; Rally Protesting UNC's Confederate Era Monument 'Silent Sam' Held On Campus, Sara D. Davis, Getty Images; Silent Sam and McCorkle Place, by Juande Mondria; first Confederate monument in North Carolina, 1868, North Carolina Civil War Monuments; Memorial Hall exterior, 1931, and Confederate dead tablet, 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 Present, 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; Silent Sam plaque, by Cecelia Moore; Julian Shakespeare Carr, NCCPA; unveiling of the Confederate monument, June 2, 1913, North Carolina Postcards, North Carolina Collection; Julian S. Carr, Private, Co. K, from photo plate before p. 767, Walter Clark, ed., Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-65, vol. 2 (Goldsboro, N.C.: Nash Brothers Book and Job Printers, [1901]); 10th Ohio Cavalry Regimental Colors, Snyder-Lucas Family History; William Walton Kitchin, Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (hereafter, LCPPD); Uncle Sam–"Guess I'll Keep 'Em," Leslie's Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, June 9, 1898, colorized version of JMU OmekaThree 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; UNC sophomore class, 1907, NCCPA; Brother v. Brother, Taylor Finley, Early Appalachian Photographer, Images by Romano, Summersville, W.V.; "Birth of a Nation" poster, Wikimedia Commons; "Birth of a Nation" screenshot, the Everett Collection; "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, LCPPD; Silent Sam 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, Raleigh, N.C., Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina; students at Silent Sam protest, September 1, 2011, Commenorative Landscapes of North Carolina; North Carolina native Parker D. Robbins, Sergeant, 2nd Regiment, U.S. Colored Cavalry, North Carolina State Archives; 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.

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