In the latest backlash against Confederate monuments, the statue commonly known as “Silent Sam” at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was found vandalized on Sunday — with statements spray-painted all around it, saying: “Black Lives Matter,” “KKK,” and “Murderer.”
The student newspaper at UNC-Chapel Hill, The Daily Tar Heel, tells the story of the monument:
In 1913 Silent Sam was constructed as a monument to the more than 300 UNC students who died in the Civil War. The sculptor, John Wilson, made the soldier “silent” by leaving out the cartridge box on the the soldier’s belt, meaning he could not fire his gun. The monument was paid for by the Daughters of the Confederacy.
Julian Carr, the namesake of Carrboro [a city in North Carolina], spoke at the monument’s dedication. In his speech he recalled the time he whipped a black woman for insulting a white woman.
“The extensive discussions with the Carolina community this past year by the Board of Trustees and University leadership and the work we will be doing to contextualize the history of our campus is a big part of advancing those conversations,” a university spokesman said in a statement, the Tar Heel reports. “We welcome all points of view, but damaging or defacing statues is not the way to go about it.”
The base of the statue, now defaced, has been covered up with a white tarp and duct tape.
— LOWDOWNDW (@ishmaelGB) July 5, 2015
Another notable aspect of Silent Sam, and the mythical imagery that surrounds many Confederate memorials, is that this statue faces northward — as if the Southern hero is preparing to meet the oncoming Yankees.
There is, however, one little historical problem with this bit of imagery: North Carolina was taken by the U.S. Army from the southern direction, as General Sherman and his men made their way up from Georgia and then into the Carolinas.
James Loewen, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Vermont, and author of multiple history books, including Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, and Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong, offers an interesting perspective on the rash of vandalism against monuments that were erected both to promote white supremacy and to distort history.
“I’m in favor of the vandalism,” Loewen, whose work has focused a great deal on educating the public on racism and social progress (and setbacks) throughout American history, told The National Memo. “I think it shows progress when Jefferson Davis gets vandalized at the University of Texas. A few years ago, Martin Luther King at the University of Texas got vandalized so often that they had to post a 24-hour guard, and then installed TV cameras. Maybe we are moving toward a better day in race relations.”
The vandalism of the Martin Luther King statue at the University of Texas, which Loewen refers to, occurred repeatedly in the mid-2000s.
While favoring the defacing of Confederate monuments in the immediate term, Loewen also had his own suggestion for what to do with them. “Historians are always advocating that we should ‘contextualize’ monuments,” Loewen explained. “Silent Sam deserves to have a historical marker in front of him, summarizing what Julian Carr said at his dedication. That would provide important context for the meaning of Silent Sam in his time — and perhaps in ours.”
In Carr’s dedication speech, the industrialist benefactor recounted the “duty” of the Confederate soldiers after the Civil War, in the reassertion of white supremacy against the empowerment of the liberated black people — and shared his own personal anecdote of how the university had provided him shelter in this task when he returned home from Robert E. Lee’s army:
The present generation, I am persuaded, scarcely takes note of what the Confederate soldier meant to the welfare of the Anglo Saxon race during the four years immediately succeeding the war, when the facts are that their courage and steadfastness saved the very life of the Anglo Saxon race in the South — when the “bottom rail was on top” all over the Southern states, and to-day, as a consequence, the purest strain of the Anglo Saxon is to be found in the 13 Southern States — Praise God.
I trust I may be pardoned for one allusion, howbeit it is rather personal. One hundred yards from where we stand, less than ninety days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a negro wench, until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady, and then rushed for protection to these University buildings where was stationed 100 Federal soldiers. I performed the pleasing duty in the immediate presence of the entire garrison, and for thirty nights afterwards slept with double-barreled shotgun under my head.
Silent Sam is not the only statue of a Confederate or white-supremacist luminary to fall victim to these latest rounds of vandalism.