June 1, 1908
The Board of Trustees approves a request from the North Carolina chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) to erect a Confederate monument on the UNC campus. The UDC requested the construction of "a handsome and suitable monument on the grounds of our State University, in memory of the Chapel Hill boys, who left college, 1861-1865 and joined our Southern Army in defense of our State." [From the minutes of the Board of Trustees (#40001), Volume 11, page 177, University Archives]
UNC President Francis Venable and Annie Hill Kenan of the UDC decide to build a statue, rather than a memorial archway, as was initally suggested. Venable expresses hope that it will be finished in time to be dedicated at the 1911 commencement.
Sculptor John Wilson begins designing Silent Sam, using sixteen-year-old Bostonian Harold Langlois as a model for the statue. Later that year, President Venable calls for work to be stopped on the monument as funds are raised. He specifies that the UDC will pay one-third of the total cost and alumni donors will pay the remaining two-thirds. Venable says that the University itself will not pay for the memorial, but he is actively involved in raising money, sending letters to prominent alumni asking for their support for the memorial.
Work resumes on the monument after Wilson completes the Daniel A. Bean statue in Brownfield, Maine.
Wilson completes the casting of the statue for the monument.
June 2, 1913
The monument is dedicated on commencement day. The unveiling features speeches by Governor Locke Craig and Julian Shakespeare Carr, a Confederate veteran, local industrialist, and trustee of the University. In his speech, Carr lauds the Confederate army's "sav[ing] the very life of the Anglo Saxon race in the South" and recalls "horse-whipp[ing] a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds" for insulting a white woman on Franklin Street.
The UDC and UNC fundraising efforts come up short, and the University covers the remaining $500 still owed on the monument.
May 11, 1937
UNC's Wigue and Masque puts on "Say the Word," an original play set on campus. The Daily Tar Heel reports that it includes the following scene:
"a college professor...is conducting his class beneath the poplar trees upon the university campus. In the background stands the monument of a Confederate soldier with a gun in his hand. Legend has it that the gun will go off if a virgin passes beneath the statue.
A coed passes in front of the class. The professor...clears his throat and pulls at his collar. He continues with his lecture. The same coed passes again. The professor has difficulty in speaking. She passes for the third time. 'Class dismissed,' stammers the professor and takes off after the coed.
The students go into a song and dance number and then the stage is cleared. After a pause the professor enters, walks slowly and dejectedly across the stage, his hair rumpled. As he passes beneath the statue, the gun goes off with a loud report.
The audience at the opening performance of 'Say the Word' last night in Memorial Hall selected this as the hit scene of the show."
This appears to be the first mention of this legend about the Confederate Monument in the Daily Tar Heel, but it seems to have originated years earlier. Later in the week, in a very critical review of the play, Daily Tar Heel editor Bill Hudson refers to the myth as an "old local wisecrack."
May 23, 1940
Students opposed to the United States becoming involved in World War II hold a peace rally in Memorial Hall and plant white crosses around Silent Sam. During the rally, students who support American entry into the war throw eggs and rotten vegetables onto the stage during an anti-war skit. UNC president Frank Porter Graham intervenes, quelling the conflict temporarily. The same evening, students burn the crosses around Silent Sam.
November 3, 1942
The Daily Tar Heel reports that the statue faces the threat of being scrapped for the war effort, but remains standing.
January 19, 1953
The Daily Tar Heel reports that members of the Kappa Alpha fraternity "gather[ed] 'round the Old Soldier" for a service in commemoration of Confederate General Robert E. Lee's birthday.
February 23, 1954
The Daily Tar Heel refers to the monument as "Silent Sam" for the first time. When first mentioned in the Tar Heel in 1913, the paper referred to it as "the Soldiers monument." From the 1920s through the 1940s, the paper referred to it as the "Confederate memorial."
September 24, 1954
The base of the monument is smeared with black paint and a beer bottle is attached to Silent Sam's rifle by N.C. State students the night before a N.C. State - UNC football game. The students also burned the initials "N.C.S." into the lawn of Morehead Planetarium. It wasn't an isolated incident - the Daily Tar Heel reported that workers cleaning the paint from the monument told passersby, "We have to do this after every darn home game."
Harold Langlois, who served as sculptor John Wilson's model for Silent Sam, comes to North Carolina looking for his likeness. He first goes to Raleigh, thinking he had modeled for the statue of Henry Lawson Wyatt, the first Confederate soldier killed in battle. However, because he remembers modeling for John Wilson, not Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of the Wyatt statue, it is determined that Silent Sam is the statue for which he modeled.
The monument is tagged with “Duke.”
May 3, 1959
P.W. Carlton, a senior reflecting on his time at UNC in The Daily Tar Heel says of Silent Sam:
"Dear old Sam, the object of student wrath and indignity for better than 100 years, stands stolidly upon his tarnished pedestal, scrupulously refusing to the meet the eyes of passers by, unruffled by his new coats of blue or green or red paint and by the lingerie displays which frequently dorn [sic] his rifle barrel. No sound has he made in the history of the school, much to the chagrin of some few saintly coeds who wished to prove a point."
A letter to the editors of the Daily Tar Heel by Al Ribak, titled "Silent Sam Should Leave," sparks discussion in the newspaper about the monument's meaning and history, whether it is a racist symbol, and whether it should be removed from campus.
May 18, 1967
Poet John Beecher, a descendant of author and abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe, "debates" Silent Sam by reading to the statue from his book of poetry To Live and Die in Dixie.
April 8, 1968
Silent Sam is splashed with paint and tagged with graffiti as demonstrations erupt around the country following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The next day, student volunteers scrub the statue and decorate it with small Confederate flags. They are asked to remove the flags and do so.
February 7, 1969
A rally, organized by the Southern Student Organizing Committee (SSOC), in support of the Demands of the Black Student Movement is held in Memorial Hall. Signs supporting the demands are placed on Silent Sam.
November 19, 1971
The Black Student Movement and the the Afro-American Society of Chapel Hill High School hold a gathering and protest at Silent Sam in memory of James Cates, a young black man murdered in the Pit by members of a white motorcycle gang on November 20, 1970, and William Murphy, a black man shot and killed by a highway patrolman in Ayden, N.C. on August 6, 1971.
The Black Student Movement holds a march in memory of James Cates, starting at Silent Sam.
Students discuss the meaning of Silent Sam in letters to the Daily Tar Heel. The discussion is prompted by a student’s letter criticizing the inclusion of photos of Silent Sam in the Yackety Yack.
Silent Sam is vandalized by students during the NCAA Finals.
The statue is temporarily removed from the monument and shipped to Cincinnati for professional cleaning and restoration, which costs $8,600. Bronze specialists Eleftherios and Mercene Karkadoulias repaired cracks, removed green oxidation, and gave the statue a protective wax coating. The refreshed statue is put back in place six months later.
In letters to the Daily Tar Heel, students discuss the meaning of Silent Sam in the context of the controversy over the recently-installed sculpture “The Student Body.”
January 19, 1991
A group of about 25 people gathered near the Confederate Monument for a "Support the Troops" in support of President George H.W. Bush and the Gulf War. Organizer Alan Martin told the Daily Tar Heel the location was chosen because "Silent Sam is dedicated to UNC soldiers who went to war when their country called. Most people now agree the reason the country was called was not necessarily right, and the same may be true today. the leaders might not be right, but a big issue with me is that I support the soldiers." [From the Daily Tar Heel, 22 January 1991]
May 1, 1992
During the L.A. Riots, UNC students hold a discussion at the Sonja Haynes Stone Black Cultural Center, then located in the Student Union. After the event, students march to Silent Sam, led by Black Student Movement President Michelle Thomas. Chancellor Paul Hardin speaks to the group gathered at Silent Sam.
January 20, 1997
A Martin Luther King Day march ends in a demonstration at Silent Sam. The demonstration focuses on issues facing UNC housekeepers.
A letter to the Daily Tar Heel by Dr. Gerald Horne comparing Silent Sam to statues of Saddam Hussein being toppled in Iraq prompts discussion of the meaning of Silent Sam and whether it should be removed from campus.
October 14, 2003
The Dialectic and Philanthropic Joint Senate debates the topic "Silent Sam: A Symbol of History or Racism?" as part of Race Relations Week, sponsored by Campus Y's Students for the Advancement of Race Relations. The debate is discussed in letters to the Daily Tar Heel in the following days.
August 7, 2011
Community organization The Real Silent Sam is founded. Its mission is “to create honest public dialogue and provoke critical thought surrounding the monuments and buildings in Chapel Hill and Carrboro” and “to ensure that we acknowledge our wrongs to gain the perspective necessary to collectively build a more just future.”
The Real Silent Sam Movement holds a demonstration at Silent Sam, including the unveiling of a mock plaque on the monument’s side explaining its racist history.
January 22, 2013
In recognition of Silent Sam’s centennial and the launch of Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina, Wilson Library hosts a lecture by history professor Fitz Brundage and doctoral student Adam Domby about the monument’s history. Records and photos related to the history of Silent Sam are displayed.
May 29, 2013
The debate over Silent Sam is featured on WUNC radio program The State of Things. Professor Tim McMillan, doctoral student Adam Domby, and activist CJ Suitt are interviewed.
February 9, 2015
The Dialectic and Philanthropic Joint Senate debates whether Silent Sam should be removed. They conclude that it should not be removed.
March 1, 2015
Members of the Department of Anthropology formally express support for the Real Silent Sam Coalition's demand for Silent Sam to be labelled with a plaque explaining that it commemorates a legacy of white supremacy.
July 5, 2015
The base of the statue is spray-painted with the words "black lives matter," "KKK," and "murderer."
July 23, 2015
In the midst of a nationwide discussion about memorials to the Confederacy, Governor Pat McCrory signs a bill that prohibits towns, universities, and other public agencies from moving or removing "objects of remembrance" without permission from the North Carolina Legislature.
October 12, 2015
On University Day, students and activists hold a "Silence Sam" rally at the statue before marching to Memorial Hall where they interrupt a speech by Chancellor Carol Folt with the chant "Tear it Down or We Shut You Down."
October 25, 2015
A group called "Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County" holds a rally on campus in support of the Confederate Monument. Many of the group members carried or displayed Confederate battle flags. The group was met by an active counter-protest from students and activists. [Source: Daily Tar Heel, October 26, 2015]
November 19, 2015
A coalition of student activist groups present "A Collective Response to Anti-Blackness," a list of concerns and demands, to the UNC-Chapel Hill administration, the UNC system, and the North Carolina General Assembly. One of the demands addresses the Confederate Monument: "We DEMAND the removal of the racist Confederate monument Silent Sam and ALL confederate monuments on campuses in the UNC-System."
December 2, 2015
The UNC Institute for the Arts and Humanities sponsored a hip-hop cypher around Silent Sam to generate an arts-based dialogue on the statue and related issues.
August 2017 to August 2018
The violent demonstration by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017 brought renewed attention to the presence of Confederate monuments in public spaces. In Durham, protesters pulled down the Confederate monument in front of the county courthouse, raising concerns that something similar would be attempted with UNC's monument. UNC students and community members held a rally demanding the removal of the Confederate monument. Fliers for the event referred to "Silent Sam's Last Semester." Following the UNC rally, students began a sit-in at the statue. In the following months, students and community members continued to protest the presence of the monument, including through boycotts and demonstrations.
The University Archives is actively working to document protests surrounding the Confederate Monument, and you can find materials related to more recent events in our collection of archived websites and the UNC Chapel Hill Ephemera Collection (#40446).
August 20, 2018
The evening before the first day of classes, a large crowd gathered at Peace and Justice Plaza at the post office on Franklin Street for a rally called "Until They All Fall." The rally was in protest of the Confederate Monument and in support of doctoral student and activist Maya Little, facing honor court charges for an April demonstration in which she poured red paint and her own blood on the monument. After speeches by Little and other activists, the rally moved to the monument. Surrounding the monument with tall banners, protesters created an alternative monument condemning white supremacy and honoring victims of racist violence. Around 9:20 PM, the statue was pulled down from its base.
About this Timeline
This is not a comprehensive timeline, particularly as a source for recent, ongoing events, and is not updated on a regular basis. The timeline draws on sources in the Wilson Special Collections Library, including news articles captured as part of our web archiving efforts on this topic. For up-to-date news on events related to the Confederate Monument, refer to local and campus news sources.
Daily Tar Heel coverage of "Silent Sam": https://www.dailytarheel.com/section/silent-sam-monument.
The UNC University Archives is interested in collecting and preserving additional information about this and other campus protests, especially photos, written accounts by people involved in the protests, handouts, fliers, and other published materials. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss possible donations or to talk about strategies for preservation of these materials.