This year marks the 100th anniversary of the dedication of Silent Sam, the Confederate monument that was erected on UNC-Chapel Hill campus on June 2, 1913, “under the auspices of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, aided by the alumni of the University,” as is inscribed on the plaque.
The purpose of this statue was to honor UNC alumni who had fought in the Civil War. Speaking at the dedication of the monument was Julian Carr. In his speech he recounted a story: “One hundred yards from where we stand, less than 90 days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady.”
As one can imagine, there has been a lot of controversy over the years about the statue. Recently there was a protest at UNC-CH that included state NAACP President Rev. Dr. William J. Barber.
Many people seem to have a hard time deciding whether or not the statue should remain on campus. I’ve come to think that leaving the statue as a historical monument isn’t a bad idea – despite the disgusting story that Julian Carr told in his speech and the fact that the Confederate cause wasn’t right. We shouldn’t pick and choose what to remember from history; history is history, as bad as it may be.
Earlier this year, my father, brother and I took a trip to Memphis, Tenn. We visited the National Civil Rights Museum and stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel where Martin Luther King was shot. The next day, we drove to the Civil War battlefield at Shiloh.
Both of my father’s paternal great-grandfathers were Civil War veterans. One fought for the Union, and one fought for the Confederacy. My Confederate great-great grandfather, William Russell Selvidge, was captured a few days before the battle of Shiloh and sent to a Union prison camp. My Union great-great-grandfather, Ancil Blackburn Mayhew, was wounded at the battle of Shiloh and was not expected to survive. However, there was room for one more person on the boat of wounded soldiers leaving from Pittsburg Landing, so they let him fill the spot. When he got to his hometown in Kentucky, his father pulled him through town in a wagon. A 12-year-old girl watched him roll by; little did she know that years later she would become his wife.
I look at both of these men and I admire their courage and bravery to be able to fight, even if one was on the wrong side. Not too long ago, my father’s cousin found a Confederate flag placed on their great-grandfather’s grave, put there by a fourth-generation descendant. Though William Russell Selvidge had fought for the Confederacy, we all agreed that he probably wouldn’t have wanted that flag to be there. When Confederate veterans would get together and reminisce about the Civil War, saying that the South should have won, he would refuse to participate in such discussions. He would always say, “I surrendered when Lee did.”
Just recently in Memphis, Forrest Park – a park named after Civil War general and Ku Klux Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forrest – was renamed Health Sciences Park. Several other parks with Confederate-related names were also changed. A lot of people were upset, and the Klan held a rally.
People today are still, after nearly 150 years, fighting the Civil War – whether it’s about removing a statue or renaming a park. If my Confederate great-great grandfather could decide to surrender when Lee did, we should be able to do the same thing today.
Lucas Selvidge is a rising senior at Carolina Friends School.