Consider the interests of each side in the Silent Sam controversy. A proposal that meets some of the interests of each side could result in a settlement of the controversy. In the end, a good settlement is one where neither side is completely satisfied. Since there is an impasse, the following is a “mediator’s proposal,” one designed to get the sides talking.
How do I, a former member of a fraternity that flew the Confederate Battle flag and who revered Robert E. Lee as its spiritual founder, come to a proposal to solve the Silent Sam impasse?
History was so important to my mother that this Person County farm girl researched her family history so she could belong to both the DAR and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
In the Smithfield First Baptist Church we sang “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight.” Little did they know what seeds were being planted. As I entered UNC in 1958 I was beginning to wrestle with the contradictions of life in the segregated South.
In April 1962 the bi-annual Carolina Symposium brought Durham Attorney Floyd McKissick to campus, who told of police mistreating him in his hometown of Asheville when he was a boy. Having answered President John Kennedy’s call, I entered the Peace Corps, one of the first UNC undergraduates to serve. I was sent to the multiracial Dominican Republic. Pictures of youthful demonstrators being attacked by police dogs and pushed off the streets by firehoses in Birmingham, Ala., were on the front pages of the newspapers there. And it was a volunteer’s job to explain that if a young Dominican of dark skin came to the U. S., rocks would not be thrown at him.
Simple contextualization by one plaque on the base of Silent Sam is inadequate. And as you read my “Mediator’s Proposal,” you may think that what is being suggested is more than balance. But before you reach that conclusion, visit Memorial Hall, a campus block away, and note the frequency of the letters C.S.A. (signifying service in the Army of the Confederate States of America) among the affiliations of many of the men honored, as well as mention of membership in the N. C. Convention of 1861, which approved Secession.
To get serious discussion started, let Silent Sam be kept in storage until two memorial monuments are designed and installed. Those two monuments would honor those African-Americans who have contributed to progress in North Carolina and our nation.
The North Carolina focused monument would include Harriet Ann Jacobs of Edenton, who hid in an attic for years, then escaped and became an author; George White, the last African-American to serve in the U. S. Congress until the late 20th Century; Zora Neale Hurston, noted author, researcher, and N.C. Central University professor (some say she was refused admission to UNC). In addition, Leroy Frazier and other students who first integrated UNC; Kenneth Lee, Floyd McKissick, and Harvey Beech, who integrated the Law School; Julius Chambers, first African-American editor-in-chief of the UNC Law Review, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, founder of first integrated law firm in N.C., chancellor of N C. Central University, and successful advocate in many landmark U. S. Supreme Court cases; and nationally known historian John Hope Franklin.
Of those still alive, I would include former Congresswoman Eva Clayton, the first African-American to serve N.C. in the U.S. Congress since George White in 1902; and Henry Frye, the first African-American chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court.
The nationally focused monument would honor Crispus Attucks, the first person to be killed in the Revolutionary War and Denmark Vesey, leader of a slave revolt in Charleston, S.C. in the 1820s. It would include noted abolitionist Frederick Douglas, Hariett Tubman, Sojourner Truth, W.E. B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., and Fred Shuttlesworth of Birmingham (featured in Diane McWhorter’s Pulitzer Prize Winning “Carry Me Home”).
An expanded committee composed of faculty, students, Board of Governors and Board of Trustee members could decide exactly who should be honored. But the focus would be on those African-Americans who have no significant mention on our campus.
Once these two monuments are in place, then Silent Sam could be re-installed. Then history and African-American achievement and contributions will both be adequately addressed.
Melzer (Pat) Morgan, Jr. earned his bacherlor’s degree at UNC in 1962 and his law degree in 1967. He is a retired Superior Court Judge and mediator.