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This collection features photographs, manifestos, a radio segment, social media posts, newspaper articles, and other writings that illustrate the recent history of the debate surrounding  "Silent Sam." Scroll down the page to see these documents, along with brief analyses by UNC students, under the following headings:

  • A Case for Moving "Silent Sam"
  • The "Real Silent Sam Committee" Fights to Break the Silence
  • An Advocate for "Silent Sam" Responds
  • WUNC Features the "Silent Sam" Debate
  • Sexism and the Myth of "Silent Sam"
  • Open Dialogue on "Silent Sam"
  • The Daily Tar Heel Reports on "Silent Sam" Graffiti
  • The Real Silent Sam Coalition Aks, "Can You Hear Us Now?"
  • UNC Department of Anthropology Advocates for Addition of Plaque to "Silent Sam"
  • An Attempt to Dampen the Controversy
  • Newspaper Editor Catalogs the Triangle Area's Controversial Memorials
  • 100th Anniversary of "Silent Sam"
"Where Are Our Representations on Campus?"

"Where Are Our Representations on Campus?", Joel Winful, Black Ink, 1990. Courtesy of DigitalNC.org.

A Case for Moving “Silent Sam”

This 1990 article by Joel Winful appeared in the campus newspaper Black Ink, a publication first produced by UNC’s Black Student Movement in 1969. Winful expresses his disappointment that African Americans still face discrimination, even after desegregation. His article, titled “Where Are Our Representations on Campus?”, highlights the racism behind memorials like “Silent Sam,” and draws attention to a lack of African American memorials on campus. Winful states that African American students are not just looking for memorials of their own, but also want the university to decline hosting discriminatory monuments on the campus.

The central figure under discussion in this article is the “Student Body” sculpture, which was erected in 1990 and later relocated from Davis Library to a secluded courtyard after much controversy. Some found the statue’s figures to represent racial and gender stereotypes. The relocation of these figures led some students to wonder why “Silent Sam” has remained for almost a century. “Silent Sam” and other “representations of many great southern traditions that have been institutionalized on this campus” helped many confirm that certain populations are historically underrepresented on campus.

Many of the monuments in question today are Civil War monuments dedicated to Confederate soldiers. Winful suggests that monuments and memorials dedicated to the Confederacy should not be hosted on campus, but rather in the Ackland Museum or a similar facility. He explains that the African American student body perceives Confederate memorials like "Silent Sam" as disrespectful and dated. On-campus memorials that are dedicated to the Confederate Army and its soldiers show “intolerance to African Americans,” he argues.


Winful, Joel. “Where Are Our Representations on Campus?” Black Ink, 10 Dec. 1990, p. 10. http://newspapers.digitalnc.org/lccn/2015236558/1990-12-10/ed-1/seq-10.pdf. Accessed 15 Sep. 2015.

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The “Real Silent Sam Committee” Fights to Break the Silence

Visit the Real Silent Sam Committee's letter to Chancellor Thorp on Facebook.

The “Real Silent Sam Coalition” is a group of students, faculty, and community members whose main goal is “bringing historical accuracy to the physical and mental landscapes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and our surrounding communities” (The Real Silent Sam). On the “Real Silent Sam” Facebook page, there is a letter to former UNC Chancellor Thorp written by a committee of members of the coalition. The letter was written in April 2013 and asks for a plaque near or on the “Silent Sam” monument, to break the “loud tradition of silence” surrounding the monument (“Dear Chancellor Thorp”). The “Real Silent Sam Committee” advocates for greater public dialogue about the history of racism at UNC, and the role of “Silent Sam” in that history. This was the second letter to the chancellor for this request. The letter draws from Julian Carr’s speech as an example of the monument’s often-unspoken history, and states that Carr’s speech discloses the monument's “true motivations.” 

Carr was a Confederate veteran, the spokesperson for North Carolina Confederate veterans after the Civil War, and was also chosen to give the speech at the dedication of “Silent Sam.” During his speech, first he honored the men who fought in the war; then, he went on to mention the importance of "preserving the Anglo-Saxon race" and celebrated the violent abuse and intimidation of a black woman for "maligning a Southern Lady" ("Dear Chancellor Thorp"). (For more on Carr’s speech, visit our collection of documents chronicling the dedication of "Silent Sam" or read Carr's speech.)

The main goal of the "Real Silent Sam Committee" in this letter is to bring to the University’s attention "the white supremacist context and intentions" of the statue. Though Chancellor Thorp had offered to put up a plaque on the Unsung Founders monument acknowledging the University’s history of racism, the letter-writers argue that this would create an even louder silence around “Silent Sam,” the “larger issue at hand” (“Dear Chancellor Thorp”). The letter closes by asking when it will be a good time to add a plaque to “Silent Sam,” considering that the monument had been standing for one hundred years in 2013. As of 2015, no plaque stands near or on the Confederate Monument. 


“Dear Chancellor Thorp.” The Real Silent Sam, 29 Apr. 2013, www.facebook.com/notes/the-real-silent-sam/dear-chancellor-thorp-break-the-loud-tradition-of-silence/477897382282302. Accessed 29 Jul. 2015. 

The Real Silent Sam. Tumblr, n.d. http://realsilentsam-blog.tumblr.com/. Accessed 21 Jul. 2015. 

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WUNC Features the “Silent Sam” Debate

Listen to WUNC's segment about the Confederate Monument on "The State of Things" with Frank Stasio.

Frank Stasio, the host of WUNC’s “The State of Things,” interviewed UNC doctoral student Adam Domby, former UNC professor Tim McMillan, and community activist CJ Suitt, who is a member of the “Real Silent Sam Coalition.” Domby, who studies UNC campus monuments, begins by talking about the monument’s history, saying, “Monuments are as much of a reflection of the period when they were built as they are the events they nominally commemorate.” At this, Stasio brings up Julian Carr, suggesting that “Silent Sam” stands for more than the soldiers who fought. (For more on Carr, visit our collection of documents that chronicle the dedication of "Silent Sam" or read Carr's speech.)

Tim McMillan, a professor of African and African American studies at UNC until 2014, says, “In [the field of] memory studies, if you want to hide something, build a monument.” According to McMillan, “Silent Sam” is an example of that phenomenon. McMillan also points out that black parents who visit the University may question whether their kids want to go to a school that welcomes them with a Confederate soldier. In the last minutes of the interview, they talk about the plaque that the “Real Silent Sam Coalition” wants to put on the monument. CJ Suitt, a member of the Coalition, discusses the group’s ongoing attempts to add this plaque. Domby, McMillan, and Suitt all agree that a plaque should be added because many people pass by the monument without knowing its history. McMillan brings up the issue that, even if there was a plaque added to “Silent Sam,” there is still a question of which story it would tell.


“Controversial Silent Sam Monument Turns 100.” WUNC, Chapel Hill, 29 May 2013. wunc.org/post/controversial-silent-sam-monument-turns-100#stream/0. Accessed 29 Jul. 2015.

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Silent Sam Does Have Negative Implications

"Silent Sam Does Have Negative Implications," Cathy Buckle, Daily Tar Heel, 1990. Courtesy of Newspapers.com.

Sexism and the Myth of “Silent Sam”

Since the dedication of the Confederate Monument to the University, students have held a variety of opinions about its presence. The Daily Tar Heel gave individuals a public forum in which to share these different perspectives, and archived editions of the newspaper reveal the progression and development of students’ views. For example, this letter-to- the-editor, written in the fall semester of 1990, provides an on-the-ground look at the controversy. By this time, critiques of the Confederate monument included commentary not only on racism, but sexism as well. For example, a popular etymological myth (date of origin unknown) on campus explains that “Silent Sam” will fire his gun whenever a virgin walks by. It is clear that the arguments against what “Silent Sam” represents have not fallen away in the past century, but expanded in answer to changing political and social climates. As this letter illustrates, many students believed that the popularity of this myth stems from students’ inherited “sexist baggage” (Buckle 1990). As the University and the world around it evolves, so too do the debates concerning “Silent Sam.” 


Buckle, Cathy. “Silent Sam Does Have Negative Implications.” The Daily Tar Heel, 25 Oct. 1990, p. 8. Newspapers.com. Accessed 15 Sep. 2015.

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Open Dialogue on “Silent Sam”

Read Taylor Hartley's commentary in the DTH on controversy over the place of "Silent Sam" on UNC's campus.

The “Silent Sam” monument has faced a constant challenge to its presence on UNC’s campus in recent decades. However, Taylor Hartley reports in The Daily Tar Heel (September 2011) that “Sam” has never truly faced the danger of removal. For instance, she notes that university official Bruce Carney confirms that no formal petition for removal has surfaced during his tenure. Hartley also features the Real Silent Sam Movement—an organization actively committed to challenging what it considers to be the white supremacist legacy represented by the memorial. While the movement does not aim to remove the memorial, it solicits active and renewed contemplation of the university’s values and history. Hartley shows that both university representatives and the Real Silent Sam Movement encourage open dialogue about UNC’s racial history. Pointing to the nearby Unsung Founders Memorial, a memorial to UNC’s “People of Color,” Hartley aims to show how the “Silent Sam” controversy continues to influence the community conversations and landscape.


Hartley, Taylor. “Real Silent Sam Movement Holds Protest Focused on Statue’s History.” The Daily Tar Heel,18 Sep. 2011. www.dailytarheel.com/article/2011/09/real_silent_sam_movement_holds_protest_focused_on_statues_history. Accessed 15 Sep. 2015.

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The Real Silent Sam Coalition Asks, “Can You Hear Us Now?”

See a photograph of activists protesting in front of "Silent Sam," from the Real Silent Sam Coalition's Tumblr page.

Visit the main page for the Real Silent Sam Coalition's Tumblr page.

The nickname for the Confederate monument, “Silent Sam,” refers to the soldier statue’s lack of ammunition; however, the “Silent” in the name speaks volumes to the members of the Real Silent Sam Coalition. According to the Real Silent Sam Coalition's mission statement, “Students, faculty, and community members have a responsibility to a campus, town, and peers to not only unveil, but to confront the past that has been inherited.” The mission statement also states that members are “dedicated to bringing historical accuracies to landscapes at UNC by understanding the necessity of historical precision in order to foster an anti-oppressive community that welcomes all.” According to members in the movement, the monument represents white supremacist beliefs. The sign “Can You Hear Us Now?” in the photo linked above refers to minority perspectives of the monument that have been suppressed or overlooked.


The Real Silent Sam. Tumblr, n.d. http://realsilentsam-blog.tumblr.com/. Accessed 21 Jul. 2015. 

“Can You Hear Us Now?” The Real Silent Sam, 4 Apr. 2015, realsilentsam-blog.tumblr.com/post/31467838961/can-you-hear-us-now-4412. Photograph. Tumblr. Accessed 17 Aug. 2015.. 

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UNC Department of Anthropology Advocates for Addition of Plaque to “Silent Sam”

Visit the UNC Anthropology Department's "Statement of Solidarity with the Real Silent Sam Coalition."

The Department of Anthropology at UNC-Chapel Hill announced their support for the efforts of the Real Silent Sam Movement or Coalition. Department members specifically stated that they support the demands of the movement to mark the “Silent Sam” statue with a plaque that explains how it commemorates a history of white supremacy. They feel it is important to educate incoming first-year students of the history of racial violence on campus for the purpose of supporting a diverse and safe community at UNC. The Anthropology Department also argues that engaging in this movement will give UNC an opportunity to lead other universities in acknowledging how racial inequality is silently commemorated on college campuses. 


Statement of Solidarity with the Real Silent Sam Coalition. UNC Department of Anthropology, 1 Mar. 2015. anthropology.unc.edu/statement-of-solidarity-with-the-real-silent-sam-coalition/. Accessed 17 Aug. 2015.

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An Attempt to Dampen the Controversy

Read "Silent, Violent, Racist Sam," by Daniel Luzer, in the Washington Monthly.

This magazine blog post offers the opinion that the “Silent Sam” monument specifically commemorates “UNC students who died fighting in the Civil War.” Daniel Luzer, a former web editor of the Washington Monthly, posits that “Silent Sam” is not as racially charged as many suggest within the UNC community. While he admits that “history is ugly,” he contends that “Silent Sam” exists to remember the bravery of the 40 percent of the UNC community who died fighting for the Confederacy. In his opinion, the Confederate cause, which he admits “existed primarily to preserve slavery,” and the UNC soldiers’ allegiance to the Confederacy, is irrelevant; therefore, “Silent Sam” should be left on display. These Confederate soldiers, he claims, “were still young men in college. People loved them and they died.” Luzer also emphasizes that the statue has a beneficial impact of stirring debate, stating, “That’s why people go to college, to confront ideas.” 


Luzer, Daniel. “Silent, Violent, Racist Sam.” Washington Monthly, 8 Sep. 2011. washingtonmonthly.com/2011/09/08/silent-violent-racist-sam/. Accessed 19 Feb. 2015.

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Newspaper Editor Catalogs the Triangle Area’s Controversial Memorials

Read "Wrestling with a Past That's 'Not Even Past,'" by Bob Ashley, in The Herald Sun.

In this opinion piece, Bob Ashley, editor of The Herald Sun, catalogs a number of UNC landmarks tied to the Confederacy and white supremacy, including Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway, Saunders Hall (named after a North Carolina leader in the Ku Klux Klan), and the Cornelia Phillips Spencer award. Of the latter, Ashley describes Chancellor James Moeser’s removal of Spencer’s name from the award because she is believed to have “acted against the interests of black people in the campaign to open the university in 1875.” Ashley concludes that one should at least “embrace” the fact that debates about “names” provides the community an opportunity to reassess its history, and that such self-assessment is healthy.


Ashley, Bob. “Wrestling with a Past That's ‘Not Even Past.’” The Herald Sun [Durham and Chapel Hill, NC], 7 Feb. 2015. www.heraldsun.com/opinion/x681773229/Wrestling-with-a-past-that-s-not-even-past. Accessed 19 Feb. 2015.

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100th Anniversary of “Silent Sam”

Read "Protesters Call UNC's Confederate Monument Racist," by Keith Upchurch, in The Herald Sun.

This 2013 article from The Herald Sun details the protests that took place at the “Silent Sam” monument during its 100th anniversary. One of several speakers at the protest, William Barber, the state NAACP President, disagreed with the monument’s reputation as “silent”: “He speaks racism. He speaks hurt to women—particularly black women. And he continues just by his presence to attempt to justify the legacy of the religion of racism.” Barber connects the symbolic racism of the “Silent Sam” monument to the larger scope of North Carolina politics, particularly the then-Republican majority in the state legislature, whose agenda Barber called “regressive.” To encourage further political protest, Barber calls on the crowd to support “Moral Mondays”—an initiative led by the NAACP and other interest groups to combat what Barber cites as Republican efforts to revoke voting rights. 


Upchurch, Keith. “Protesters call UNC's Confederate monument racist.” The Herald Sun [Durham and Chapel Hill, NC], 2 Jan. 2013. http://www.heraldsun.com/news/localnews/x1592165654/Protesters-call-UNC-s-Confederate-monument-racist. Accessed 19 February 2015.

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