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University of North Carolina proposes moving a Confederate statue to a building on the edge of campus

University of North Carolina proposes moving a Confederate statue to a building on the edge of campus
In August, a Confederate statue known as "Silent Sam" was toppled by protesters at the University of North Carolina. (Gerry Broome / Associated Press)

The University of North Carolina on Monday proposed moving a toppled Confederate statue into a new $5-million building on the outskirts of campus, seeking to balance security with strict state historical laws.

The plan presented by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt called for relocating the statue at a site a mile south of where the monument previously stood. It was overwhelmingly approved by the campus trustees, though at least one trustee voted against it.

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Several hundred protesters marched peacefully but noisily against the decision hours later.

The Board of Governors that oversees the statewide university system will have final say over the plan for the statue known as “Silent Sam.” The board is expected to consider it at a meeting Dec. 14.

The trustees proposed a site south of the university's hospital to build a new history and education center that would house the statue torn down by protesters in August. The proposal said the building in the Odum Village area of campus would cost about $5 million to build, with an estimated $800,000 in annual operating costs.

The chancellor and several of the trustees said they would have preferred to move the statue off campus, but they were restricted by a 2015 state law on Confederate statues and other monuments. Folt said safety was chief among many factors considered in developing the plan.

“It was very clear that public safety alone would make it impossible to return it to its base or any outdoor location on our campus,” she said.

The statue had stood on a main campus quad from 1913 until it was torn down by protesters who decried what they described as its racist origins.

After the announcement by the trustees, a crowd of protesters gathered in downtown Chapel Hill. After several speakers, demonstrators marched west on Franklin Street, the city's main thoroughfare, chanting slogans as they made their way through the streets.

University of North Carolina isn't the first college to grapple with Confederate monuments and ultimately decide to move them indoors. The University of Texas has removed several Confederate statues from outdoor display, including a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis taken down in 2015 and now displayed in a museum.

North Carolina's law on historical monuments allows relocation in only narrow circumstances, such as to preserve the artifact or because of construction. University attorney Mark Merritt said the proposal meets those criteria because the statue was vandalized and ultimately toppled in its previous location and because of planned changes at the McCorkle Place quadrangle that many call the university's “front door.”

Under the state law, a new location for a monument must be similarly prominent and accessible; the university's proposal says the new building housing “Silent Sam” will be in the middle of “the next area of growth for campus.”

The new building would also have room to hold classes and display historical exhibits to contextualize the university's history, Folt said. She said it was too early in the planning to discuss a detailed timetable for construction. The written proposal said a likely completion date would be in 2022.

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