Confederate Monument (Silent Sam)

In 1908 the board of trustees approved a request from the North Carolina division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) to build a Confederate monument on campus. University president Francis Venable was actively involved in planning and fund-raising for the monument and committed university funds to the effort when money from the UDC and alumni fell short. The university and the UDC chose Boston sculptor John Wilson to create the monument. It was dedicated in June 1913 to the university men who had fought for the Confederacy. The dedication ceremony included speeches by UDC and UNC leaders, North Carolina governor Locke Craig, and alumnus Julian S. Carr. Carr's speech has attracted the most attention. In it, he praised the Confederate army for "sav[ing] the very life of the Anglo Saxon race in the South" and recalled "horse-whipp[ing] a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds" for insulting a white woman.

During its first decades on campus, the monument was either viewed as a war memorial or simply ignored by students. By the mid-twentieth century, students were calling it "Silent Sam," a nickname attributed both to the impassive look on the soldier's face and to his lack of ammunition. An enduring joke among undergraduates was that the soldier's rifle goes off whenever a virgin walks by.

The first public calls to remove the statue came in the mid-1960s and intensified in the late 1960s amid civil rights protests. Students and others have argued for decades that the statue is a monument to racism and white supremacy, claims supported by historians who place the monument within the context of early twentieth-century efforts to disenfranchise African American voters, establish the Jim Crow system of racial segregation, and rewrite the history of the Civil War.

The focus on the statue intensified in the mid-2010s in the midst of a national conversation about Confederate monuments in public spaces, and following the decision by several cities and universities to remove monuments. In 2018, after a rally off campus, a group of protesters pulled the statue down from its base. In 2019 Chancellor Carol L. Folt ordered the remaining parts of the monument to be removed in the same message in which she announced her resignation. The toppling of the statue and subsequent debates about what to do with it have kept UNC at the center of national discussions about white supremacy and Confederate memorialization. In its end-of-the-year review issue, the Daily Tar Heel called 2018 the Year of Sam.


Date Established: 1913

Date Range: 1913 – Present

UNC housekeeper Elaine Massey holds a sign under the Confederate monument, protesting institutional racism during a Martin Luther King Day protest in 1999. Photo by John Kenyon Chapman. John Kenyon Chapman Papers, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library.