I was born, raised and educated in Chapel Hill, NC. I walked by, sat by, and have taken photographs by “Silent Sam” countless times. I knew the tale about this statue of a Confederate soldier with a rifle but no cartridges who only fired his gun “when a – presumably female – virgin walked by.” Hilarious.
And I’m not a fan of destroying property.
But this “silent” statue was actually screaming White Supremacy. Most of us just couldn’t hear it.
Imagine hearing – out loud – this speech on June 2, 1913 by the Davie Poplar in McCorkle place off Franklin Street, 48 years after the Civil War spoken by UNC trustee and Confederate Army veteran Julian Carr:
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 a garrison of 100 Federal soldiers. I performed the pleasing duty in the immediate presence of the entire garrison, and for thirty nights afterwards slept with a double-barrel shot gun under my head.
Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.
I didn’t know that history because I was never curious enough to find out. In fact, I’m not even sure I was aware that “Silent Sam” depicted a Confederate States soldier. I never noticed the details. I never had to notice because it didn’t hurt me.
Today it hurts me. I was stunned that – at the very least – there wasn’t an accompanying plaque explaining the vile history of this statue, but then, why in the world would anyone – except a current day white supremacist – allow such a statue to remain on the campus of a distinguished university if they knew about this dedication speech? (The whole speech can be read here.)
A good book to read about Confederate statues is Mitch Landrieu’s In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History. It changed my heart about this issue.
White Supremacy is alive and well – in my own heart too. I hate the destruction but I get it. We can do better and it begins by White People doing our homework and listening for the screams.
Image of a toppled Silent Sam.