Fate of ‘Silent Sam’ yet to be decided

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Law enforcement made no effort to prevent statue’s destruction on UNC-CH campus

By Kari Travis | Carolina Journal News Service

CHAPEL HILL — The Board of Governors for UNC-Chapel Hill will make suggestions by mid-November on what to do with Silent Sam, the campus’s controversial Confederate statue torn down by protesters last week.

The Board met via teleconference on Tuesday, Aug. 28 to discuss Silent Sam’s fate. After a five-minute roll call, the group immediately moved into closed session for two hours. Since there were “no white noise machines,” staffers said, reporters were moved to a lobby far from the boardroom doors.

Silent Sam had stood on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus since 1913, long inviting conflict between advocates and opponents of Confederate memorials. Protests escalated in 2015, finally reaching a boiling point Aug. 20, when a group of demonstrators reportedly used torches and ropes to bring down the statue.


UNC’s governing board now faces a tough question: What happens to Sam now that it has been pulled from its pedestal?

The statue should be re-installed on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus, said Thom Goolsby, a Republican board member and former state legislator. See Goolsby’s letter to his colleagues on the front page of this newspaper.

Goolsby said protesters involved in the takedown should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. The law also requires that Silent Sam be put back within 90 days of its removal, according to Goolsby’s letter.

State law dictates a statue may not be permanently removed by state officials. It may only be temporarily relocated to conserve or renovate the monument. The statue must be returned within 90 days.

A resolution passed Tuesday stating UNC-Chapel Hill trustees will “develop and present to the Board of Governors a plan for the monument’s disposition and preservation.” The recommendations are due to the Board of Governors by Nov. 15.

Goolsby was the only board member to vote against the resolution, saying the situation should be resolved quickly.

Investigations are ongoing, and UNC-Chapel Hill doesn’t support lawlessness — but the situation is delicate, university Chancellor Carol Folt has repeatedly stated.

Several people have been arrested for their role in toppling the statue.

The board is taking independent action to investigate what went wrong, said Board Chairman Harry Smith. Board members Phil Byers and Bob Rucho will oversee an outside firm’s assessment “of UNC Chapel Hill’s preparation for and response to the Aug. 20 protest.”

Video of the protest shows campus police moving away from the monument just before protesters pulled it down.

“Given the urgency of this matter, the review will be conducted on an expedited basis,” Smith said.

The Board of Governors will look for ways to “improve and better enforce codes of conduct, policies on freedom of expression, and procedures and approaches to ensure UNC institutions [are] secure,” he said.