The Confederate statue on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus was a point of friction and protest long before the Charlottesville rally in support of a statue of Robert E. Lee turned tragically violent and left three people dead, thrusting the issue into t Lynn Bonner video, N&O file photos Video produced by John Hansen
The Confederate statue on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus was a point of friction and protest long before the Charlottesville rally in support of a statue of Robert E. Lee turned tragically violent and left three people dead, thrusting the issue into t Lynn Bonner video, N&O file photos Video produced by John Hansen

Orange County

A safe place for Silent Sam? Orange County lawmakers hope the General Assembly agrees

By Tammy Grubb

tgrubb@heraldsun.com

February 08, 2018 06:00 AM

CHAPEL HILL

Orange County’s legislators could ask the General Assembly this spring to set a deadline for UNC to move the Confederate statue Silent Sam to a safe place.

State Rep. Verla Insko plans to sponsor the bill in this year’s short legislative session, which begins in May. State Rep. Graig Meyer and State Sen. Valerie Foushee are working with her, and they’ve asked the Chapel Hill Town Council for its support.

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said Wednesday the council could take up the issue later but wanted to talk first with other local governments.

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Verla Insko

Insko said the bill answers requests from the public and UNC students and faculty “who thought it would be a good time to keep the issue in front of the public.” It would be better to resolve the issue before someone tries to damage the statue, she said.

“I think a lot of people don’t want the monument destroyed or damaged,” Insko said. “It is a part of history, and we have lessons to learn from that. I think that preserving it for this purpose is really important.”

Video: A ladder and tow strap were used to swiftly pull a Confederate statue to the ground during an ‘Emergency Durham Protest’ at the old Durham County Courthouse in response to the violent protests Saturday in Charlottesville, on Monday, Aug. 14 Casey Tothctoth@heraldsun.com

Protesters celebrate after pulling down a Confederate statue in Durham, N.C. Monday afternoon Aug. 14, 2017. Casey Toth and Virginia Bridgesheraldsun.com

Silent Sam was erected in 1913 to honor UNC alumni who fought in the Civil War, and the university is the only school in the UNC system with a Confederate statue on campus.

A Confederate statue owned by the town of Louisburg, stands on the private Louisburg College campus.

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger has asked UNC Chancellor Carol Folt to seek state historical commission permission to store Silent Sam. Hemminger, who wrote her letter in August after a Confederate statue in Durham was toppled, also cited the “clear and present danger” if someone tried to remove Silent Sam.

Folt has agreed moving Silent Sam would be for the best but said the university is limited by a 2015 law that prohibits removing historic statues from public property. Gov. Roy Cooper, who suggested last summer that UNC could move the statue out of concern for public safety, also has asked the state commission to look at moving other Confederate monuments to capital grounds. The commission could discuss that petition in April.

Meanwhile, a UNC history task force is planning markers and online materials focused on the history of Silent Sam, the university and the contributions of slaves who built much of the campus. More recently, a group of black UNC alumni called for a boycott of the university’s $4.25 billion fundraising campaign.

Orange County’s lawmakers understand that getting a bill through the legislature may not be easy, especially if the Republican majority isn’t inclined to do heavily Democratic Orange County or Chapel Hill any favors. She has not talked with Republican lawmakers yet, Insko said, but plans to before filing the bill.

Silent Sam could be moved to the Ackland Art Museum or some other university building, she suggested.

“There are people who are big sports fans, and the university is part of their history and they’re big Carolina supporters, so I think ... there’s an opportunity to get support for it,” she said. “People who followed this have to know, especially given what happened in Durham, they have to know that that’s on people’s minds.”

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb