My letter to UNC BOT and Chancellor Folt on Silent Sam

Dear Members of the UNC Chapel Hill Board of Trustees and Chancellor Folt:

As a lifelong North Carolinian from Goldsboro, and as a 3 time alum (’90 BSPH; ’92 MPA; ’95 Ph.D.), let me first thank you for your service to my (and for most of you) our alma mater.

I came to UNC in the fall of 1986 as an uninitiated student who went to college because I thought that I was supposed to do so, and left nearly a decade later on a trajectory that has seen me become a professor, and now Chair of the Academic Council at Duke University. I have been truly blessed. These blessings were only possible because at Carolina I discovered that school was not only something you were supposed to do, but through some incredible professors and classmates, I found that the life of the mind was engaging and exciting. I have given my professional life to being a scholar and an educator. None of this would have been possible without UNC, and I am forever grateful. Thank you Carolina.

I played football at Goldsboro High School, and we had three foes in our conference from Wilmington: Hoggard, Laney and New Hanover High, and I spent many hours riding to and from games in activity buses thinking about Wilmington. However, I never heard until I was in my 30s of the 1898 “Wilmington race riot” that was as a matter of fact, essentially a coup d’etat that saw a multi-racial elected local government run out of town in racially motivated violence. Governor Charles B. Aycock is the most famous person from where I come from, and in several visits to his birthplace homestead just outside of Goldsboro, I never heard one word of his role in fomenting the political climate that enabled this event just before he became Governor, in spite of having taken an entire year of North Carolina history in 4th and 8th grade. I placed out of U.S. history via the AP exam, so did not take it at UNC. The version of post-Civil War U.S. history that most of us have been taught and told in the South is faulty and incomplete, and Carolina should play a key role in fixing this problem, not only for your students but for the entire state, country and world.

I am sure that I have walked past Silent Sam hundreds of times, beginning when I was 5 or 6 and went to UNC football games with my parents (both alums of UNC), and then of course during my nearly a decade as a student on campus. I really never thought much about the statue one way or another, until I learned more about its history, and the history of the erection of confederate monuments, generally. I have heard from many students, fellow alums and current faculty who do think about it, and they experience it as a symbol that they did not fully belong at UNC. I regret and am sorry for how tone deaf I was for so long. The faulty telling of history is not just a historical error, but it effects our world today. The University has a chance to demonstrate Lux et Libertas by keeping scholarship at the forefront of how Carolina proceeds, as is befitting of a great research University. We should commit to a full and accurate telling of the post-Civil War American experience, and the role that white supremacy played in it, and most importantly, to struggle with what this history means for us today.

Silent Sam belongs in a museum, perhaps in the Wilson Library, where a full contextualization of the statute and the role that confederate memorials in North Carolina played in imposing Jim Crow and enabling violence against black persons in our state is described and owned. The history of the epidemiology of confederate memorials most certainly does not need to be washed away, but interrogated, laid bare and communicated widely. In fact, Professor Jim Leloudis has provided an example of what public facing scholarship should look like  This 5 minute lesson on the history of Silent Sam in particular, and of confederate monuments more generally, is how a research university should proceed. We need more of this, and as many voices who are willing to own their words should be invited to contribute.

As a final thought, after moving Silent Sam to the Wilson Library, the question of what to do with the plith will arise. I urge you to consider leaving the plith as it Is, a ruin of sorts, while adding more information in McCorkle place about the statue, and pointing people to Wilson Library who want to know more. This will rehabilitate Silent Sam as a tool for education, and not a symbol of white supremacy at the front door of Carolina.

Best wishes and with deep gratitude for what Carolina has done for me.

Don Taylor

Donald H. Taylor, Jr. Ph.D.

Professor of Public Policy

Chair, Academic Council

Duke University

About Don Taylor
Professor of Public Policy (with appointments in Business, Nursing, Community and Family Medicine, and the Duke Clinical Research Institute), and Chair of the Academic Council at Duke University . I am one of the founding faculty of the Margolis Center for Health Policy. My research focuses on improving care for persons who are dying, and I am co-PI of a CMMI award in Community Based Palliative Care. I teach both undergrads and grad students at Duke. On twitter @donaldhtaylorjr

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