UNC Historian delves into true history of “Silent Sam” in court brief

When attorneys for the UNC Board of Governors and N.C. Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans appeared in court  last month to defend a the controversial “Silent Sam” legal settlement, they were frank about their goal.

“The Board of Governors did not want to win this case,” said Ripley Rand, the former U.S. Attorney who represented the UNC System and its Board of Governors. “The Board of Governors wanted finality, to bring this issue to a close.”

Rand acknowledged there were complicated questions of law on the statue’s ownership that go back to its placement on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus in 1913. The board could have fought out those legal questions all the way to the Supreme Court, he said, but it preferred a quick and final solution to the problem.

This week UNC alumni and donors — and a prominent former university historian — filed briefs in the case insisting the the university will have to face the historical facts and answer those complicated questions if it intends to give the “Silent Sam” monument to the Sons of Confederate Veterans — along with $2.5 million in a non-profit trust.

In a brief filed Wednesday Cecelia Moore,  UNC’s University Historian from 2014 until her retirement last year, cast serious doubt on claims that the North Carolina Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy ever owned the statue, which would mean they could not transfer rights to it to the Sons of Confederate Veterans group, giving them standing to sue the university.

Cecelia Moore, former UNC University Historian

Moore said she had been asked to prepare information about the statue and its history in June of 2019 and only later became aware that parts of that research used as exhibits in the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ legal complaint and in the consent judgement signed by the court.

That led her to prepare a more complete historical figure and offer it to the court, she said.

“One potentially key document that I looked for, but did not find, was a deed of gift or other formal agreement between the UDC and the University,” Moore wrote in her brief. “Although formal agreements commonly are executed by the University and its donors today, I found nothing to suggest that any such document was ever drafted or signed in connection with the Confederate monument.”

That’s a very different situation than the UDC’s efforts in Chatham County, Moore wrote, where the group was able to successfully raise money for the cost of a Confederate monument and had a contract with the county that put the UDC in charge of the monument.

Why the difference? As Moore illustrates in her brief, the UDC was unable to raise even half of the the cost of the Silent Sam monument. Most of it was paid for by UNC alumni and from university funds.

“The attached documents show that the UDC was able to raise only about one-third of the UNC Confederate monument’s costs; that President [Francis] Venable raised the bulk of the funds from UNC alumni; and that their collective efforts ultimately fell short by $500 which the UNC trustees paid out of University funds in 1914,” Moore wrote. “Both fundraising efforts wee spearheaded on the part of the UDC by the same person — Bettie Jackson (Mrs. Henry A.) London of Pittsboro, whose husband was a UNC trustee and secretary of the UNC Alumni Association.”

In their own amicus brief,  the 88 prominent UNC alumni and donors referred to Moore’s evidence in coming to what they found an inevitable conclusion.

“UDC no more owned the statue than a donor owns a piece of art for whose acquisition the donor made a gift of funds to the University,” the group said in the brief. “Never having owned the statue, the UDC could not gift it to the University or anyone else.”

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