by Emily H.A. Yen, Trinity College
from Critical Mass, Volume 44, Issue 1
The violent death of Heather Heyer at the Unite the Right rally lead by torch-carrying White nationalists protesting the proposed removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia shifted the national discourse around White supremacy and the public display of Confederate monuments. Confederate monuments are particularly controversial since the vast majority of them were built after the Supreme Court upheld the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision (Southern Poverty Law Center 2019) and were a way for White southerners to venerate an alternative narrative of the origins of the Civil War and assert racial dominance in the Jim Crow South. The United Daughters of the Confederacy’s fundraising of the 8-foot bronze statue on University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s (UNC) campus and its dedication by Julian Carr, a UNC Trustee and Confederate veteran who supported the Ku Klux Klan, in 1913 reflects this larger movement (Farzan 2018). The statue known as “Silent Sam” has been a focal point of recent campus debates around racial justice, White supremacy, and free speech, but generations of UNC students have been protesting its presence on campus for over 50 years. The most recent wave of student activism led to the statue’s physical toppling in August 2018 and spurred an ongoing debate around the preservation of its symbolic legacy.