The study of Classics includes reading texts and monuments in their historical contexts, understanding the use and abuse of rhetoric, and analyzing both the stated goals of historical figures and evidence that may point to ulterior motives. Our department finds the evidence quite clear that the statue of a Confederate soldier standing in a position of honor at the entrance to our beautiful campus was both meant to be, and has served as, a monument to white supremacy.
Whatever one thinks of the motives of the common soldier in the Civil War, the evidence is indisputable that the statue was erected in 1913 as part of the white power movement of the Jim Crow era. Also beyond argument are the shameful details surrounding the establishment of the statue in Chapel Hill, from the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s overt support of white supremacy, to Julian Carr’s boastful remark at the monument’s dedication that he had “horse-whipped a negro wench” for disrespecting “a Southern lady.” It may be—indeed, must be—asked what values and meaning this monument has on our campus today. Whom does it welcome? Whom does it warn? Whose interests does it serve? Whose does it suppress? History informs these questions, but they can be answered only in the present.
Even if famously “silent,” a single monument can speak volumes. As students of a distant and different past, we in the Department of Classics are particularly sensitive to the significance of historical monuments. We recognize a statue’s ability to encapsulate and project a coded narrative about the past and to project its values onto the present, both reflecting and reinforcing a particular ideology. We understand, too, that context is crucial to the meanings of all monuments. These issues are not new. The Confederate monument’s dedication in 1913 says much about the people and habits of the Jim Crow south. Its eventual removal, in turn, will say much about the values and temperament of those who could no longer bear to live under its shadow.
For further information about the UNC-CH Confederate Monument, see the following links (with thanks to the Department of English and Comparative Literature).
Uncommon Ground’s online exhibition ‘Chronicling “Silent Sam”’: https://digitalresearch.lib.unc.edu/exhibits/show/chronicling-silent-sam
Transcription of Julian Carr’s speech at the dedication of the Confederate Monument: http://hgreen.people.ua.edu/transcription-carr-speech.html
The University’s FAQ page on the Confederate Monument and related issues: http://www.unc.edu/campus-updates/faq-questions-about-sampling-of-current-campus-issues/
UNC Faculty Council’s resolution urging the removal of the Confederate Monument: https://facultygov.unc.edu/files/2016/02/RES201710SilentSamAmended.pdf
Endorsed unanimously by the faculty of the Department of Classics, 27 September 2017