The American History Podcast

A Program Of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities


History Behind the Headlines: Silent Sam

At the UNC Chapel Hill campus last night, a crowd of protesters tore down a Confederate statue known as “Silent Sam.” The statue has been a source of controversy on the UNC campus for decades, and tensions have been rising in recent years. Calls for its removal increased following the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA.

“Silent Sam” was commissioned by the Daughters of the Confederacy to honor the students and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. It was unveiled in 1913, decades after the war ended, as part of an increase in Confederate monuments built during the Jim Crow period. Over a century later, the statue has become a part of a national discussion concerning the purpose, meaning, and fate of these monuments.

Last year, the university acknowledged that the statue’s removal would be in the best interest of the safety of the campus but argued that a 2015 state law prevented immediate changes. According to this law, a “monument, memorial or work of art owned by the state” cannot be “removed, relocated or altered in any way” without approval from a state historical commission.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper joined other calls to invoke a loophole in the law, allowing for such objects to be removed if they posed a threat to public safety. These proposals were resisted by University officials. In 2017, BackStory took a look at when and why Confederate statues were erected, and what they stood for. For more context on Confederate monuments, check out “Contested Landscape.”

About History Behind The Headlines: When breaking news and history collide, BackStory brings the context. This new blog feature takes trending news items and, whenever possible, offers BackStory host commentary or segments from previous episodes that provide a historical viewpoint.