For more than a year, the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors has tried to resolve a problem that didn’t really exist: What should it do with Silent Sam? The Confederate statue with its racist roots had been topped by protesters on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus in August 2018. Agree with the method or not, Silent Sam no longer was a safety hazard or a source of pain and controversy to the school community.
But instead of merely giving the statue away or keeping it closeted, the board decided last week to pay millions of dollars to a Confederate sympathy group to take the statue off the UNC System’s hands. In a whisper-like announcement the afternoon before Thanksgiving, the UNC system said it had agreed to settle a lawsuit involving Silent Sam by giving $2.5 million to the North Carolina division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
The resolution “does what is best for the university,” said BOG member Jim Holmes. In reality, it’s a resolution that brings new problems and new shame to the UNC system, and it comes with new questions about the money and timing of the agreement.
First, the timing. UNC’s announcement Wednesday began: “This morning a judge entered a consent judgment in a lawsuit involving the Confederate monument known as Silent Sam.“ But documents show that the lawsuit was both filed and settled on Wednesday, the same day as the UNC announcement. The odd timing was discovered by attorney and former BOG member Greg Doucette, who noted that the board met at 10 a.m. Wednesday to approve a settlement that clearly had been agreed to before a lawsuit had even been filed. Although the legality of the agreement was signed off by attorneys in the N.C. Attorney General’s office, the board should explain what was behind that legal timing and maneuvering. The board also should address what legal standing the off-campus Sons of Confederate Veterans had, if any, to bring a lawsuit regarding the statue.
As for the $2.5 million, the university says that it will not come from state money, but from the interest earnings of the UNC system’s privately funded endowment. That’s money, however, that might be used to fund worthy and urgent needs that fit the UNC system’s core mission of educating students. Instead, it will go to an organization that promotes a revisionist history overwhelmingly rejected by serious historians, an organization that hosted a distasteful “secession ball” in South Carolina less than a decade ago and continues to propagate the historical fiction that the Civil War was not fought over slavery.
It’s also a group that chooses to ignore the distress that symbols of the Confederacy bring to many of its fellow Americans. Now, that group will raise Silent Sam and bring the same pain to another North Carolina community, and it will do so with millions of the University of North Carolina system’s dollars. It’s an inadequate and clumsy resolution, a washing of hands that continues to stain our state.
— The Charlotte Observer