The United Daughters of the Confederacy requested custody of the Silent Sam Confederate monument just days after it was toppled by protesters at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, According to an August e-mail.
The e-mail was obtained by activist Heather Redding of Hillsborough Progressive Taking Action. It shows Peggy W. Johnson, president of the North Carolina division of the UDC, reached out to UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees Chair Haywood Cochrane on August 22.
As Policy Watch has reported, the United Daughters of the Confederacy is the group responsible not just for Silent Sam’s installation in 1913 but for many of the Confederate monuments that sprung up throughout the country as white supremacist campaigns disfranchised Black Voters and brought about legal segregation.
It is not clear whether UNC, its board of Trustees of the UNC Board of Governors would have the authority to return the statue to the group.
A 2015 law , passed to prevent the removal of confederate statues as a public movement to do away with them swelled, states: “A monument, memorial, or work of art owned by the State may not be removed, relocated, or altered in any way without the approval of the North Carolina Historical Commission.”
The law further states, in subsection (b): “An object of remembrance located on public property may not be permanently removed and may only be relocated, whether temporarily
or permanently, under the circumstances listed in this subsection and subject to the limitations in this subsection. An object of remembrance that is temporarily relocated shall be returned to its original location within 90 days of completion of the project that required its temporary removal. An object of remembrance that is permanently relocated shall be relocated to a site of similar prominence, honor, visibility, availability, and access that are within the boundaries of the jurisdiction from which it was relocated. An object of remembrance may not be relocated to a museum, cemetery, or mausoleum unless it was originally placed at such a location.”
Critics of the law – including Gov. Roy Cooper, believe that subsection leaves an opening for at least temporary removal or relocation.
The relevant portion reads:
“The circumstances under which an object of remembrance may be relocated are either of the following:
(1) When appropriate measures are required by the State or a political subdivision of the State to preserve the object.
(2) When necessary for construction, renovation, or reconfiguration of buildings, open spaces, parking, or transportation projects.
(c) Exceptions. – This section does not apply to the following:
(1) Highway markers set up by the Board of Transportation in cooperation with the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources as provided by Chapter 197 of the Public Laws of 1935.
(2) An object of remembrance owned by a private party that is located on public property and that is the subject of a legal agreement between the private party and the State or a political subdivision of the State governing the removal or relocation of the object.
(3) An object of remembrance for which a building inspector or similar official has determined poses a threat to public safety because of an unsafe or dangerous condition. (2015-170, s. 3(c); 2015-241, s. 14.30(c).)”
Cooper referenced that subsection of the law last year, telling UNC officials they have the power to remove the ‘Silent Sam’ statue if “building inspector[s] or similar officials” determine there are “threats to public safety.”
In a recent report, a group of security professionals told UNC they believed returning the statue to a prominent place on campus would constitute a continuing security threat.
Vocal members of the UNC Board of Governors – and the Republican majority in the N.C. General Assembly that appoints board members – continue to say they do not believe the law allows for the removal of the statue from campus. That would make its return to the United Daughters of the Confederacy a difficult prospect.
Redding, whose group recently protested in front of the UDC headquarters in Raleigh, said the option of returning the statue should at least have been discussed in the months of public comment by various UNC boards and administrators.
“The United Daughters of the Confederacy rarely inserts itself into public discourse,” Redding said in a statement. “So it comes as no surprise that they requested its return through an email rather than a public statement. The University of North Carolina should take this request seriously, as it is only proper that a monument to white supremacy be returned to the white supremacist organization whose name is on its plaque.”