The trustees of North Carolina’s flagship university have begun a private meeting to discuss the aftermath of a protest that resulted in the toppling of a century-old Confederate statue on campus. (Aug. 28)
The University of North Carolina is considering a $5.3 million plan to reinstall the statue of the Confederate soldier that was toppled by protesters in August – despite demonstrations and threats from instructors to withhold students’ final grades.
The board of trustees of the university’s flagship Chapel Hill campus has recommended a new “history and education center” to house “Silent Sam” and other exhibits. The center would cost $5.3 million to build and $800,000 per year to run.
The university system’s board of governors is set to discuss the plan Friday. It is unclear whether the governors will vote.
The trustees’ vote last week prompted protests. Students, faculty and civil rights groups say Silent Sam, the bronze statue that stood on the Chapel Hill campus for more than a century, glorifies racism, slavery and white supremacy.
“It’s very obvious that the statue and what it was meant to represent is rooted in white supremacy and completely goes against everything the university stands for,” said Dominque L. Brodie, political action committee co-chair for the Black Student Movement. “It creates a very unwelcome learning environment for black students.”
Some faculty members and graduate students have threatened to withhold final grades for students if the Board of Trustees doesn’t withdraw the plan.
The statue was erected by the North Carolina Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1913, a time when Confederate memorials proliferated throughout the South, and dedicated to “the sons of the university who entered the war of 1861-65 in answer to the call of their country.”
In recent decades, it has been the scene of protests and the target of violence.
Opposition to Confederate memorials, symbols and flags was reignited in 2015 by the murders of nine black church members in Charleston, South Carolina, by a white supremacist who had posed on social media with guns and a Confederate battle flag.
Communities from New Orleans to New York have grappled since then with what to do with memorials to the Confederacy. The deadly 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia – home of that state’s flagship university campus – was ostensibly sparked by a proposal to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from a public park.
University of North Carolina officials say the board of trustees would have preferred to have moved Silent Sam to a secure off-campus location such as the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, but state law prohibits it.
The law requires an “object of remembrance” to be relocated to a site “within the boundaries of the jurisdiction from which it was relocated.”
“We followed a thoughtful and thorough process to meet the charge set out by the Board of Governors,” university Chancellor Carol L. Folt said in a statement. “Public safety is our strongest criteria. Our mission is to be an open campus where people can be active, study and do their work in a safe place. We have a long and important history to tell and this plan offers us an outstanding opportunity to tell it fully.”
Some want the statue returned to its original location.
Kevin Stone, commander of the North Carolina Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said a history center would be a waste of taxpayer dollars.
He said the statue should be returned with a fence or barrier around it to keep protesters away.
Stone disagrees that the statue promotes white supremacy.
“You cannot judge 1850s and ’60s history by 2018 attitudes and opinions,” he said. “A lot of people who are offended are offended because of their own ignorance of history.”
The board of governors has spent a week reviewing the history center proposal.
“This four-part plan is thorough and detailed, and we are grateful for the time and energy that the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees and UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt took to develop these recommendations,” Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith said in a statement.
The proposal approved by the trustees would place the history center in Odum Village, a former site for student family housing that is set to be razed.
It would feature exhibits on the university’s 225-year history, covering slavery, war, emancipation, civil unrest and other topics.
Brodie said Odum Village is historically where many black students lived and congregated.
“To put it in that location just shows that they don’t care about how black students feel,” Brodie said. “We have been the ones saying for years that the statue created an unwelcome and uncomfortable environment.”
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