Restoring the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument to its original place at UNC-Chapel Hill is “not the right path,” UNC Board of Governors Chairman Harry Smith said Wednesday.
His thinking has undergone an evolution, Smith said at a press conference following a full meeting of the board of governors.
“My original view and opinion, which I think was probably quick and uneducated, was just to put it back up,” Smith said. “Having taken the time, energy and effort and talking to a lot of people I have tremendous faith and trust in, it’s my view and opinion as one member that that’s not the right path.”
Earlier this month, Smith announced a second delay in unveiling a potential plan for the statue, which was toppled by protesters last August. Controversy over the statue and its future played a part in public conflicts between the board and former UNC System President Margaret Spellings and UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt, both of whom resigned their positions.
Interim UNC System President Bill Roper and Interim UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz have both gone on record saying they believe the statue should not return to the campus at Chapel Hill.
Opinion on the board is still divided. Last week outgoing board member Joe Knott wrote a column for the News & Observer in which he advocated for restoring the statue and said a “mob” shouldn’t decide the issue.
That sentiment is strong among some of the board’s most conservative members. Board member Thom Goolsby has repeatedly taken to his YouTube channel to say the statue must be re-erected under a 2015 law passed by the N.C. General Assembly to protect such monuments.
Smith is himself known as one of the board’s more conservative and combative members. His publicly changing his stance could signal a shift on the board, which has struggled with the question of whether and how to restore the statue since it was first brought down.
“From my perspective, my views and opinions have evolved greatly as I’ve gone through the process and learned,” Smith said Wednesday. “I think others’ have as well.”
Smith said he is just one member and he works at the will of the board, which has said has a lot of smart people. They’re going through the process deliberately rather than quickly in order to make the best decision, he said. No deadline now on a new plan for the monument.
“It would be easy to rush, make a decision and move on,” Smith said. “I don’t think that would be the right thing to do either. The goal here is simply to get it right.”
Asked if a new law is needed to resolve the issue, Smith was less expansive.
“I’m not a legislator,” he said. “We’re just working — our board is working really, really hard. And the goal is just to get it right. Whatever right is, that is the goal.”