The email came from interim UNC-CH Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz. Silent Sam would never return to the UNC campus. That seemed like good news on the day before Thanksgiving. But that was just half of the news.
Guskiewicz didn’t mention the $2.5 million paid to an anachronistic organization to make the statue go away. It turns out that the Sons of Confederate Veterans was suing the University for violating the state’s law that prohibits local governments from removing Confederate statues. The University reached a settlement with them that provides a trust to house and protect the monument. The legislature is denying access to health care to 500,000 real people while the bronze likeness of a Confederate soldier gets a $2.5 million trust fund. That’s your Republican government in action.
It’s quite a windfall for the Sons of Confederate Veterans. I would suspect their membership has been dwindling for years. That $2.5 million must really be a shot in the arm for a group that’s trying to keep the myth of the Lost Cause alive. Unfortunately for them, history is catching up to their fairy tale of honor and chivalry. Fortunately for them, the NC GOP needs their support.
This debacle is the direct result of the Republicans in the North Carolina legislature pandering to the racist wing of their party. In the wake of the Charleston church shooting in 2015, states across the South reconsidered their memorials to the Confederacy. The South Carolina legislature removed the Confederate flag from the capitol grounds. New Orleans removed prominent Confederate statues. In North Carolina, though, the GOP rushed through legislation protecting the monuments, preventing their removal from government property without approval of a state commission. They let the neo-Confederates know who had their back.
But the episode highlights something else, too. For years, we’ve said there are no secrets in politics. In large part, that statement was true because reporters were snooping around, talking to people throughout the system. Nobody caught wind of this deal until it was already done. I suspect that’s because we’ve lost so many reporters in recent years that nobody was watching closely enough. The press is stretched thin and reporters are overworked. In this scenario, our government gets to work under the cover of darkness. Bad deals go through without the scrutiny to stop them. Bad actors rise through ranks because nobody is watching them.
This deal is a failure of government. The UNC system and Republican legislators would say that it’s compromise in action. Giving $2.5 million to a dying organization to create a shrine to the Confederacy is not negotiating. It’s capitulation. The episode lays bare how Republican rule has damaged the state’s reputation and sets an awful precedent. How many more statues will we pay for? It also highlights the need for more transparency. Support your local press so we can learn about debacles like this one before they take place, not after.