"Silent Sam," the statue at the University of North Carolina memorializing UNC students who fought in the Civil War, has become a rational extension of the movement to purge the South of all remnants of the history of secession and of the hundreds of thousands of deaths expended to keep the United States together.
The statue of a soldier has been defaced with spray paint labeling the soldier "murderer," along with "KKK" and "Black Lives Matter." There have been recurring calls over the years to take down the statue, but the statue, which is beloved not for its connection with the Confederacy but for its generations of connection with the campus, still stands. It's likely more students have known Silent Sam for his legendary firing of his musket each time a virgin passed by than for his Civil War connection.
When this debate over Silent Sam arises, the reason for his existence is ignored. Sam was not erected as a symbol of white supremacy or slaveholder economics or as a reminder of the so-called "Lost Cause." Sam came to stand on the UNC campus because North Carolinians, particularly those with a UNC connection, sought to honor the students who laid down their books and took up weapons as the state seceded from the Union and supplied troops to the nascent Confederate States. Fifty years after the Civil War, the scars of that conflict were still palpable — an economy that had never recovered from the utter destruction of a merciless invading army, and the memory of so many lives lost. Every North Carolina family knew the pain of losing a father, brother, uncle or cousin to the war. A handful of these were slaveholders and fought, at least in part, to extend slavery, but the vast majority had no stake in the slave economy; they only knew that their nation (North Carolina, a sovereign under the Confederate system) was at war.
Silent Sam is harmless. Misleading accusations about him and festering hatred of a bronze idol are not harmless. Let him stand, as a memorial to men who died honorably and as a joke that students love to tell. Harmless.