The recent uproar about Silent Sam, the statue in memory of UNC students who fought for the Confederacy in the War Between the States and which until last August stood on the grounds of the campus, …
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The recent uproar about Silent Sam, the statue in memory of UNC students who fought for the Confederacy in the War Between the States and which until last August stood on the grounds of the campus, continues to make headlines.
It had been there since 1913 until a group of protestors, mainly students, pulled it down the night of August 20. Since that day, there have been rallies for and against the monument, including questions about where to put it back, if at all. Among the ideas was construction of a multi-million-dollar museum at another place on campus, a plan vetoed by the school’s leadership.
The right or wrong of everything about the statue depends on your point of view, obviously. What a majority of people of every point of view seem to not remember, forget or just not care about is that it’s an inanimate object that references some particular part of our nation’s history. If I were a betting man, I’d bet that most people in Chapel Hill or passing by on the campus paid little or no attention to it. I know I fell into that category during the seven years I spent at UNC.
I think I’ve got as strong a case to love the “Old South” as much as anyone living today. My great-grandfather was in that conflict, serving in Company D, 35th N.C. Infantry, known as “the Haw River Boys” since it was made up of men from north of Bynum to south of Moncure. He was in battles across North Carolina and Virginia. He was on the field at Antietam, site of the bloodiest day in American military history. He was 18 years old that day when his unit was involved in what historians say involved “some of the most violent and bloodiest hand-to-hand combat.” He walked home from Appomattox. I have visited his grave.
Yet, despite all this, while I admire his courage and bravery, I don’t worship it or cling to it. I never thought about it while I was a student at UNC; instead, I was busy going to class, trying to learn something and graduate. I looked at the past as past, lived in the present and tried to learn from both how to go into the future.
Now before anyone accuses me of being uninformed, uneducated, a relic of the past myself or just plain out of it, let me hasten to add that I understand not everyone in the world looks through the same glasses as I do.
So, here’s the point: It’s not so much the statue is gone; it’s how it was done.
How many people in the world today say to folks of other persuasions or just the world in general, “Let’s have a thoughtful, substantive discussion about (whatever)” and then they all go off screaming at each other and hearing nothing?
The student protestors obviously had enough free time to organize and carry out their actions. The Board of Governors and the chancellor had spent hours in discussion. So, the issue became that to the protestors their “demands” weren’t being met on their preferred timetable, so they took things into their own hands.
There is still debate today about whether Chancellor Carol Folt had the authority to remove the base, all that was left after the statue was gone, or not. A 2015 N.C. law prevents relocation or alteration of “objects of remembrance.” Yet early in the morning of January 15, Folt felt she had the authority. Her supporters maintain she was acting in the interest of safety, something she says she had the authority to do.
So, here’s where I’m having trouble. She broke the law. Does that mean members of society have the right to break laws with which they don’t agree? I remember being taught in UNC Journalism School and at home that “liberty is not license.” In other words, as the Bible and countless other places and people in society tell us, we have freedoms, but they have responsibilities. I’m free to drive 100 miles an hour down the main street of Goldston but my freedom ends where someone else’s freedom to pull into traffic starts.
Some will say the student demonstrators were merely exercising their First Amendment rights of free speech. I’m no expert in Constitutional law but I’m pretty sure the framers of the Constitution didn’t equate free speech and vandalism as being the same thing.
So what sort of future actions can be expected from this precedent? If you don’t like the name of a campus building, can you burn it down? If you don’t like the color of the uniforms the football team wears, can you break into the field house and spray paint them pink? Is that freedom of speech or is it, as someone has said, merely an act of “civil disobedience”? Somehow, to me, pulling down a statue doesn’t rise to the level of Rosa Parks saying she ought to be able to sit where she wants to on a city bus. And, ironically, we’ve just noted the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. who, I think, never pulled down a statue but instead engaged in serious discussions.
It all boils down to human nature. If the protestors really wanted to tear down the statue, why did they hide what they were doing behind tall banners? If Carol Folt believed the base should be gone, why did she do it at 2 a.m.? If you’re going to take a position on something, why hide it?
A Bible verse says people love the darkness because it hides their deeds. We’re seeing that play out in society today when things are done under the cover of darkness. That’s starting to become the norm.
When the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Benjamin Franklin, a delegate from Pennsylvania, commented to a woman standing in the crowd, “Here’s your republic, madam. Good luck keeping it.”
Deeds done under the cover of darkness are a lesson that if our republic falls it will be from within.