Story at a glance

  • The University of North Carolina made a settlement deal with Sons of Confederate Veterans in December 2019 to move the controversial Silent Sam monument.
  • The judge that signed off on the $2.5 million agreement then ruled the SCV had no standing to bring the original suit, effectively voiding the agreement.
  • Questions remain about who owns the statue and what happens to it next.

Silent Sam is sitting in storage now. After 105 years on a pedestal at the University of North Carolina (UNC), it was pulled down by protestors in 2018. That night, it was hauled away, although UNC officials won’t say where it is being stored. 

Where the statue of a Confederate soldier is now is just one of the questions left standing after a judge voided a settlement between UNC and the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) that would have given them custody of the monument. District Court Judge Allen Baddour, who had initially signed off on the agreement mere minutes after the SCV filed a lawsuit, has ruled that the SCV had no legal standing to bring the initial lawsuit that led to the $2.5 million deal.

The university has not revealed their plans for the statue, as their board of governors faces scrutiny for agreeing to the deal without holding a public meeting and even before the lawsuit was filed. Baddour himself faced questions after UNC’s student newspaper the Daily Tar Heel reported that two previous decisions by Baddour that were favorable to UNC had since been overturned

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But perhaps the biggest question is what happens next to the bronze statue of a young Confederate soldier holding a rifle with both of his hands, but no cartridge box for ammunition — which some say was the origin of the name "Silent Sam," which first appeared in the Tar Heel. 

The North Carolina branch of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) first suggested a memorial in 1908 to honor UNC alumni who served as Confederate soldiers in the civil war, according to archival research. The $7,500 statue created by sculptor John Wilson was funded by money raised by the UDC and UNC together: UDC was responsible for raising a third of the total sum and UNC alumni were responsible for two-thirds of the sum. 

More than a century later, when the statue was taken down, the UDC’s sister organization, the SCV, wanted to get involved. According to reporting by the Tar Heel, UNC system leaders gave $74,999 to the SCV, which directed it to Sara Powell, president of the United Daughters of the Confederacy North Carolina Division Inc. — giving them the right, title and interest in the statue. 

UNC says the payment was to keep the SCV from displaying Confederate symbolism on the university’s statewide property for five years. But unnamed sources told the Tar Heel it was used to give the SCV claim to Silent Sam. 

In a brief filed in December, UNC alumni and donors claimed that the UDC had no right over the monument in the first place, and so it belonged to the university. After the ruling, C. Boyd Sturges III, attorney for the North Carolina Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, told the Washington Post it would be returned to UNC — although he’s not sure how. 

“It’s not like it’s in the boot of my car,” Sturges told the Post. “The thing is 16 tons. It’s solid bronze.”

Published on Feb 13, 2020