Roy Exum: Who Speaks For ‘Sam?’

  • Wednesday, August 22, 2018
  • Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Fall classes began at the University of North Carolina on Monday and, before the day was spent, those in quest of a higher education were offered a great lesson. At about 9:30 at night in Chapel Hill – this in the university’s aptly-named Peace and Justice Plaza – a mob of about 300 defied UNC officials and state law by tearing down a Civil War statue.

The statue, which was given to the university in 1913 in memory of the students who were slain in the battles of the Civil War, has been a point of controversy in recent years. While it and other Civil War sites have been protected by the state legislature, hundreds of statues around the country have been desecrated. In Monday’s moment at UNC, protesters placed large banners around “Silent Sam,” a campus landmark, and after darkness fell, used hidden ropes to pull the statue on its face from its base.

An editorial in the Charlotte Observer lauded the lawless: Oh, the editors disagreed with ‘mob rule’ but swept that fret away with this summation: “What’s more this morning — to UNC students and others — is that Silent Sam is down. One more monument to racism gone. One more reminder that instead of waiting for change, sometimes you have to pull it toward you.”

Well, where do you draw the line? When the statue was dedicated over 100 years ago, UNC archives tell us that a radical and most racist industrialist, Julian Carr, spoke at the unveiling and, in his best Ku Klux Klan stripe, the madman boasted with what he claimed was a personal story:

“I trust I may be pardoned for one allusion, howbeit it is rather personal,” Carr said. “One hundred yards from where we stand, less than ninety days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horsewhipped 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, and then rushed for protection to these University buildings where was stationed a garrison of 100 Federal soldiers. I performed the pleasing duty in the immediate presence of the entire garrison, and for thirty nights afterwards slept with a double-barrel shot gun under my head.”

I can honestly say that I don’t believe the likes of Julian Carr ever ascended to be included in heaven’s Good Book. Yes, he could have sought forgiveness and received penance from an Almighty God but if that be assumed, let’s also imagine the Holy chariot pulling over at some spot towards heaven and the men aboard beating the very Devil out of our worse-among-the-worst.

This week’s response to the statue murder was immediate but lost in the melee was “Sam” himself. Long, long ago Saint Augustine challenged the world: “Right is right even if no one is doing it; wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it.” Up until the last decade, those who fought brother-against-brother were convinced their cause was worth fighting to uphold and, in the Land of Democracy, the law has always been absolute.

There were steps being taken by both the university and the state to handle the issue properly. The statue was called “Silent Sam” because the sculptor – John Wilson – failed to adorn the likeness with an ammo pouch. But with the statue toppling head first, who speaks for the innocents like the 620,000 “Sams” who lost their lives on both sides in this nation’s biggest heartbreak?

Are those who would desecrate monuments and graves unable to see these were our nation’s sons and daughters? Dare think that any back then, children – exactly their age – were not also taking a stand for what they rather famously thought right? You must grasp this: Then was then, this is now, and any who attempt to sully or hide the truth are the best examples of why we must always and forever recognize the good and the bad of our heritage. We are a combination of only what we have now become and to tear a statue down is as mighty a reflection on the truth as the statue’s unveiling long, long ago.

I believe that every “Sam” who fell in the Civil War was somebody’s brother, a mother’s son – one who was so intent on the best for her boy that, back in the mid-1850s, she and the rest of the family stoically did without so her son would go to UNC to further embolden her dream of him one day becoming the President of the United States.

I am also quite assured not one mother has ever really heard the drums of war that drew their sons, their brothers, or their kin. It is impossible for a mother to hear. Yet to a one, every woman who cherishes freedom for her brood, respects the decision and the devotion to the flag, even when they get that heart-piercing news her boy will not be coming home.

The Saint’s vision is true: “Right is right even if no one is doing it; wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it.

My God, 62,000 of our sons didn’t come back to live a life they each deserved. What is right? What is wrong? Allow me to share an answer …

Had it not been for the “Silent Sam” statue, I would have never known about the scurrilous lout who horsewhipped a woman in front of 100 Union troops. Not a one raised a finger. However, I am assured, without reservation, that had just one “Sam” been present at the statue’s dedication, guest speaker Julian Carr would have seen the business end of that shotgun up close.

Every Union and Confederate ‘son’ will agree: Any man who ever horsewhips a woman no longer has a need for a pillow. There is nothing for him to put on it.

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