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What happened to "Silent Sam" speaks volumes

August 31, 2018

Last week protesters at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill took matters into their own hands, toppling the statue of an anonymous Confederate soldier known as "Silent Sam." Someone placed a cap that read "Do it Like Durham" on the crumpled monument, referring to the similar removal-by-crowd of a Confederate statue at Durham County Courthouse a year ago. Reportedly, that event spurred talk of relocating Silent Sam, but even if they had agreed to it, the UNC administration was hamstrung by state laws passed in 2015 by a Republican-dominated General Assembly. North Carolina is one of several Southern states that passed legislation protecting Confederate monuments within the past five years.
 

Charlottesville faces the same quandary. The Code of Virginia prevents the city from removing or relocating statues of Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson regardless of local government's decisions to do so. Attempts to change the law following the tragic events in Charlottesville on August 11 and 12, 2017 fell on deaf ears within the Virginia legislature, which is majority Republican at this point in time. 

 

With little legislative momentum until Virginia's next state election in November 2019, it is plausible that citizens may seek alternative solutions to the dilemma. This prospect concerns The Virginia Flaggers, an organization dedicated to preserving Confederate moments. On Wednesday, they announced plans to hire security guards to patrol Charlottesville's statues, indicating their lack of confidence that city police would adequately protect them should the need arise. 

 

Meanwhile in Chapel Hill, UNC officials are weighing their obligation to replace Silent Sam under state law. Protests continue at the statue's bare plinth and it seems likely that any "Son of Silent Sam" will meet the same fate. Last year the school spent more than $390k on police security. Fourteen citizens have been arrested to date in connection with the statue removal and subsequent celebrations/protests. Ultimately, it will be voters in NC and Virginia who decide whether the cost of protecting symbols of white supremacy, both financial and human, exceeds their questionable value as historical artifacts. 

 

The actions of citizens in Chapel Hill and Durham give voice to a growing intolerance for inaction. We can only hope that this clarion call drowns out the dog whistles of the alt-right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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