Historians Should End Silence on Silent SamRoundup
tags: Confederate Monuments, Silent Sam
Jonathan Zimmerman is a professor of the history of education at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the co-author of The Case for Contention: Teaching Controversial Issues in American Schools (University of Chicago Press, 2017). Thumbnail Image - By Yellowspacehopper at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0
The Confederate statue known as Silent Sam is a monument to white supremacy, so it should be removed from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Right?
Wrong. It’s precisely because the statue embodies white supremacy that it should remain on the campus, in a history center that tells its full and hateful story. And my fellow historians should be the first people to say that.
Alas, we’ve gone mostly silent on the removal of Silent Sam. Historians have carefully exposed the racist roots of such Confederate memorials, which were typically erected in the early 20th century to burnish slavery and buttress Jim Crow. But when Chapel Hill’s chancellor, Carol L. Folt, proposed that Silent Sam be placed in a new history center, sparking protest by students and faculty members, few members of our guild rallied to her side. And late last week, when the UNC Board of Governors voted down Folt’s plan, most of us kept quiet.
Even worse, some historians embraced the attack on the proposed history center. In a statement last week, the National Council on Public History argued that placing Silent Sam on display "threatens to discourage open dialogue about the white-supremacist history" of the monument and about "the negative effects of its continued presence on members of the UNC community."
Come again? Putting Silent Sam out of sight will also put him out of mind, suppressing rather than promoting the kind of "open dialogue" that the council hails. And ultimately that will have negative effects for the entire UNC community, including its minority members. ...
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