U. of North Carolina system under fire for $2.5M to Confederate group in 'Silent Sam' deal

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Police surround the "Silent Sam" Confederate monument during a protest to remove the statue at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C.Gerry Broome / AP file

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By David K. Li

University of North Carolina system trustees are under fire over giving more than $2.5 million to a Confederate group in a deal over the school's divisive statue known as "Silent Sam."

The board of governors reached the monetary settlement in late November with Sons of Confederate Veterans for the group to “forever maintain possession of" the Silent Sam statue and to keep it "outside any of the 14 counties currently containing a UNC System campus."

On Monday, trustees said the board also paid another nearly $75,000 to the Confederate group in exchange for its not displaying any of its "flags and banners on university campuses," for the next five years.

Five members of the board of governors acknowledged the additional payment to the Sons of Confederate Veterans in an op-ed in the Raleigh News & Observer on Monday explaining the university's larger settlement with the organization as offering “a lawful and lasting path that ensures the monument never returns” to any UNC campuses.

Trustees said the deal was the best way to head off legal action by the Confederate group, which had opposed removal of the statue.

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Silent Sam, a memorial to UNC alumni who fought for the Confederacy, was erected on the flagship Chapel Hill campus in 1913. It was toppled in 2018 by protesters who view the statue as a racist symbol.

The $2.5 million is going to an independent trust that would then fund maintenance and preservation of the statue. A key provision of the agreement bans Silent Sam from ever being brought into any of the 14 counties where UNC campuses are located.

Monday's opinion piece followed legal action taken Friday by a civil rights group seeking to undo the board's deal with the Confederate group.

“It disgusts me that the university I attend would shirk its basic academic and moral responsibility to work toward an honest reckoning with the past, and instead would pay reparations to white supremacists,” undergraduate William Holland wrote in an affidavit filed by Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Holland is among six Chapel Hill students and one faculty member named as plaintiffs in the court motion.

In other fallout, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which said last week it withdrew a $1.5 million grant pledged to Chapel Hill after learning of the deal with Sons of Confederate Veterans.

UNC-Chapel Hill history professor W. Fitzhugh Brundage, a leading critic of the board's handling of the Silent Sam controversy, said he was stunned by the additional payment.

"This is appalling," Brundage told NBC News on Tuesday. "It's hush money, in hopes the Sons of the Confederacy won't make any more noise."

A representative for the UNC Board of Governors said Tuesday that trustees would not have any further comment beyond Monday's op-ed piece. The spokesman said the $74,999 payment was made to Sons of Confederate Veterans up front.

Associated Press contributed.