Loading

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. It is also "a lesson for the living."
What lesson does the Confederate monument teach? Detractors 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 southern heritage and 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 flank the stage in the new Memorial Hall, built in 1930-31 to replace the original structure.
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 explained the statue's relationship to North Carolina's racial politics and, in doing so, distinguished it from the tablets in Memorial Hall and similar expressions of mourning for the Confederate dead.
Carr noted that the monument honored not only alumni who died for the Confederacy, but also the 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 (pictured hat in hand at Gettysburg in 1913) recounted his own resolve 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 retribution.
Carr’s audience surely connected his story to other familiar uses of bodily violence to impose racial dominance — by lash-wielding masters in the time of slavery and by Ku Klux Klansmen and lynch mobs in the era of Jim Crow.
In 1909, at the dedication of the Confederate monument in Granville County, North Carolina governor William W. Kitchin described such violence and the racial order it served 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 irrefutable.
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 at the 1906 dedication of Anson County's monument. He reminded his audience that "our Anglo-Saxon ancestors wrested this land from the savages, built its homes, its schools and colleges."
McLauchlin recalled that after the Civil War he and fellow veterans refused to surrender that inheritance to an "inferior and numerous race” of former slaves. With “grim determination,” they took up the “heroic task of redeeming their State and committing her destinies into the hands of her native white citizens.”
R. D. W. Connor — UNC alumnus and trustee, secretary of the North Carolina Historical Commission, member of UNC’s history faculty, and in later years the first archivist of the United States — gave that account of the post-Civil War era a scholar's blessing.

In a public lecture delivered in 1912, Connor, like Governor Kitchin, acknowledged white men’s propensity for “excesses and violences” (as evidenced in this souvenir postcard from the deadly 1898 white supremacy riot in Wilmington, North Carolina). “But what of it!” he exclaimed. “Their conduct was simply a pure and priceless demonstration of the political genius and self-governing passion of the Anglo-Saxon race.”

Joseph G. de Roulhac Hamilton, Connor's colleague in UNC's history department and himself an eminent scholar, offered a similar appraisal. In his writings on the Ku Klux Klan, he described racial violence as a necessary evil — an essential means of "spreading salutary terror" in defense of white rule.
These were the ideas that speakers invoked at the dedication of UNC's Confederate monument. For Julian Carr, the statue celebrated "courage and steadfastness" in fulfilling the duties of white manhood. University president Francis P. Venable described it as a "brilliant lesson in bronze and granite to all coming generations of students.”
Confederate memorialization had more than regional appeal. It spoke to a broad cross-section of white Americans 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 desire in his epic film, “Birth of a Nation.” He based the screenplay on historical novels written by Thomas F. Dixon Jr., a Southern Baptist minister, North Carolina legislator, and ardent champion of white supremacy.
As illustrated by this triumphal scene, "Birth of a Nation" cast the battle for white supremacy as a heroic tale of Confederate veterans-turned-Klansmen who, in the aftermath of the Civil War, saved white womanhood and white civilization from the supposed evils of "negro domination."

The film celebrated an America born anew, redeemed 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.

In the latter half of the 20th century, as a growing number of white Americans disavowed overt racism, they began to think and speak of the statues of Confederate soldiers as simple memorials to fallen veterans.
That would have surprised the men and women who built the monuments. By their own accounts, they raised up the soldier statues to mark the restoration of a social order structured along strict lines of forced racial separation and inequality.
As John McLauchlin explained in Anson County, Confederate monuments stood as "emblem[s] to teach future generations lessons of fidelity to the principles and culture which are the heritage of the [white] southern people and the pride of every true Son and Daughter of the South."
Today, we live with 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 historical memories of a more just alternative.
Unheard are the voices of enslaved men and women who seized freedom's promise; southerners — black, white, and American Indian — who took up arms to defend the United States against the Confederacy; and people of good conscience, North and South, who strove to create an inclusive democracy in the post-Civil War years.
Those voices call to us from the past. What might they teach us, and how might their lessons inspire our lives today? To know the answers, we must make room to listen and learn.

James L. Leloudis, Professor of History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Copyright 2017.

With research assistance from Cecelia Moore, PhD; Rob Shapard, PhD; and Brian Fennessy.

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; "Corner Stone Laid," Wadesboro Messenger and Intelligencer, January 18, 1906; R. D. W. Connor, Race Elements in the White Population of North Carolina (Raleigh: Edwards and Broughton Printing Co., 1920), pp. 12-13; Joseph G. de Roulhac Hamilton, Reconstruction in North Carolina (New York: Columbia University, 1914), p. 466; 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 (see 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; and "Corner Stone Laid" (see above). 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; Silent Sam protestThe Daily Tar Heel; Silent Sam and McCorkle Place, by Juande Mondria; first Confederate monument in North Carolina, 1868, North Carolina Civil War Monuments; exterior and interior of Memorial Hall, and Memorial Hall tablets 1-2 and 3-4, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives (hereafter, NCCPA); 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; Confederate veterans in Brevard, Transylvania County, N.C., 1911, NCCPA; Julian Carr at Gettysburg, 1913, National Photo Company Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (hereafter, LCPPD); 10th Ohio Cavalry flag, Snyder-Lucas Family History web site; Whipping A Negro Girl In North Carolina By "Unconstructed" Johnsonians, Harper's Weekly, September 14, 1867, p. 577, New York Public Library Digital Collections; William Walton Kitchin, Harris & Ewing Collection, LCPPD; "Guess I'll Keep Them," Leslie's Weekly Newspaper, June 9, 1898; 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; Lantern Slide 0211, R.D.W. Connor, Collier Cobb Photographic Collection, NCCPA; Wilmington, N.C. race riot, 1898: montage of 5 photos, LCPPD; Ku-Klux Klan Again - Planning the Contemplated Murder of John Campbell in North Carolina, 1871, Alamy; 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.; dedication of the Jackson County Confederate monument, 1915, Hunter Library Special Collections, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, N.C.; drinking fountain on the county courthouse lawn, Halifax County, N.C., Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Collection, LCPPD; Colonel Roger Moore and Confederate States of America flag, Alice Borden Moore Sisson Papers, Cape Fearians Collection, New Hanover County Public Library, Wilmington, N.C.; students at Silent Sam protest, September 1, 2011, Commenorative Landscapes of North Carolina; Colored Troops, Under General Wild, Liberating Slaves in North Carolina, Harper's Weekly, January 23, 1864, North Carolina Civil War Image Portfolio, NCCPA; and 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.

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.