Department of Religious Studies Statement on the Future of the Confederate Statue

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Department of Religious Studies Statement on the Future of the Confederate Statue

September 5, 2018

We are heartened by Chancellor Folt’s August 31 communication stating that the Confederate statue does not belong back in McCorkle Place, and by her appeal for an inclusive, collaborative process to determine the statue’s fate. We call on the university administration, the Board of Trustees, and the Board of Governors to dispose of it in a space where its ability to symbolize racial hatred and white supremacy will be limited by scholarly contextualization. By no means can the statue return to any outdoor place on our campus. This includes the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery, which has only recently reckoned with the ignominious neglect of slave burials there. We believe it must be placed indoors, and that its future must be to serve UNC’s larger mission of public education, in this case about the history of racial oppression and civil rights activism that have marked our community. We also urge the university administration to promote reconciliation by dropping all charges against the activists who toppled the statue.

As scholars of religion, we understand that the white supremacists who erected the statue treated it as sacred and rooted it in racism, misogyny, and calls for a return to a white “Christian nation.” We recognize the removal of the statue as a historic turn toward a more equitable, hospitable, and just future for UNC. We welcome this future and pledge ourselves to its service.

For more information on the history of the Confederate Statue, see UNC Library’s Guide to Researching Campus Monuments and Buildings: “Silent Sam” Confederate Monument.


Statement by the UNC Chapel Hill Department of Religious Studies concerning “Silent Sam”
October 4, 2017

It is impossible to study religion without recognizing the importance of cultural, social, and political diversity, the enormous power of material objects, and the profound ways in which the past pervades the present. The Confederate monument known as “Silent Sam” exerts the ongoing power of white supremacy on our campus. As religious studies scholars, we are particularly aware that it was erected as an icon of social inequity and that white nationalist groups today have invested its presence on campus with sacred value.

In his 1913 speech dedicating the statue, Julian S. Carr celebrated the “sacrifice” of Confederate soldiers, the purity of “the Anglo Saxon” as a “Christian race,” and God’s providential blessing of the southern states in order to sanctify racial violence, a violence that continues today against racial, ethnic, and religious minorities. “Silent Sam” still enjoys the privilege of sacred space on this campus, not only raised high but also guarded by cameras, police, and sometimes barricades. Allowing this statue to remain in McCorkle Place contradicts the university’s policy on non-discrimination, which states that “The University is committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment.”

In her August 30th, 2017 email, Chancellor Carol Folt called on the campus community to “promote robust dialogue and debate” in an effort to encourage and protect free speech. In order to demonstrate its sincere commitment to the freedom of expression, the University must end its policies curtailing student activism around the statue and throughout the campus. Their material, embodied, and creative counter-narratives provide a vital service in challenging the legacy and ongoing threat of white supremacy.

The Department of Religious Studies calls for the removal of “Silent Sam” from McCorkle Place and the full protection of the student activists’ freedom of political expression.

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