Archive of the Department of History’s Public Statements
Statement on White House Memo Barring Federal Agencies from Race-Related Trainings
“The President, and his Administration, are fully committed to the fair and equal treatment of all individuals within the United States….The divisive, false, and demeaning propaganda of the critical race theory movement is contrary to all we stand for as Americans and should have no place in the Federal government.”
On September 4, 2020, the White House Office of Management and Budget released a memorandum calling on Federal agencies to “cease and desist” using taxpayer dollars to fund any trainings on “critical race theory” and “white privilege.” Calling Critical Race Theory “divisive, Un-American propaganda,” OMB Director Russell Vought promised that he would issue more guidance to implement the President’s directives to agencies.
Critical Race Theory is not propaganda. It is a scholarly framework that describes how race, class, gender, and sexuality organize American life. As such, it is foundational to anyone who practices law, policy, social work, or medicine, or examines inequities in educational achievement, wealth, or other indicators of success in our society. Critical Race Theory offers an important analytical lens through which to view the larger structures and cultural assumptions that guide American society. It helps explain why, for example, Black people die in the hands of police at a much higher than average rate, even though most individual police officers have never killed a Black person. There are structural reasons why, historically and in the present day, Black people have been disproportionate victims of police violence. Critical Race Theory explores and explains these structures.
Vought’s memo is as misleading as the President’s directive is dangerous. Both mischaracterize Critical Race Theory as a way to teach white people that they are inherently racist. In doing so, the President is politicizing the study of race and racism. He has taken a valid subject of academic inquiry and weaponized it to fuel a broader culture war. The effect is to promote white heteropatriarchy as the only authentic American experience, delegitimizing all other histories as un-American, inauthentic, and threatening to our core values.
The truth is that Critical Race Theory affirms the most fundamental of American values: freedom. A free press, freedom of speech, and free inquiry represent the backbone of our democracy, and they are the cornerstone of a good education in the United States. An education grounded in truth, critical thought, and academic inquiry–not polemical attacks–is crucial to informed citizens making decisions for the benefit of society. This is the goal of Critical Race Theory, and it is why it is studied and taught from the classroom to the boardroom. For a president who has staked his political reputation and reelection hopes on sowing division and hatred, it is clear why he fears the prospect of a more critically engaged citizenry.
The undersigned members of the Department of History at UNC-Chapel Hill stand with our colleagues in and outside the academy who teach and write about the history of racism in the United States and the construction of whiteness and privilege. We condemn the President’s politicization of the scholarship of race and racism, and we repudiate his misuse of an executive agency for his own political gain. If he is able to do so with impunity, he will have eroded the very freedoms we all hold so dear.
In order to see current signatures and sign, click here.
Statements Related to the Former Confederate Statue Known as “Silent Sam”
Statement by Faculty in the Department of History, UNC-Chapel Hill, December 2019
The History Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill condemns the Board of Governors’ (BOG) agreement to give $2.5 million to the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) for the long-term custody and maintenance of the Confederate Monument known as “Silent Sam.”
In addition to its major financial expense, the agreement carries even higher costs for the University’s commitment to fact-based knowledge and for our efforts to confront the historical legacies of racist ideologies and institutions.
Historically accurate accounts of past events are based on facts and historical documents. The SCV ignores overwhelming historical evidence about the causes of America’s Civil War, the centrality of slavery to the Confederacy, and the white supremacist system of the Confederate government. Its false historical narrative states that the “preservation of liberty and freedom was the motivating factor in the South’s decision to fight.”
Historians reject this lost-cause mythology. Empirical evidence from Confederate policies, political leaders, and military officers demonstrates that the Confederacy was established to defend the continuing enslavement of millions of people. To deny this evidence is as wrong as to deny the evidence for the Holocaust. To give our University’s money to an organization that promotes historical falsehoods contradicts our professional commitment to teaching, research, and public service.
The History Department therefore calls on the BOG to rescind the settlement. Establishing a UNC-funded “charitable trust” for the SCV goes against our core values as historians and faculty members. The settlement harms the people of North Carolina, undermines historical understanding, and damages the national and global reputation of our University.
For a PDF of this statement, click here.
“Now that Silent Sam has been removed from his pedestal on our campus, let him remain on the ground: he should be displayed as a contextualized, historical artifact within an appropriate educational space, not in a position of honor. The monument is undeniably a part of UNC’s past, but he no longer needs to be part of UNC’s future.”
Faculty Statement Regarding the “Silent Sam” Monument, October 4, 2017
The faculty of the Department of History urges the officers of UNC and other state officials to pursue every avenue to remove the “Silent Sam” monument. For more than a century it has stood in the most conspicuous public space on our campus. Then and now, the location of the monument speaks to the intent of its creators to ensure that the heritage they commemorated would have pride of place at the front door of the state’s flagship university. While they shared a veneration of slavery, the “Old South,” the Confederacy, and the ideology of white supremacy, many of their contemporaries in North Carolina and elsewhere did not. From its inception, the monument was exclusionary and offered a highly selective interpretation of the nation’s history. In the twenty-first century that interpretation is so incompatible with the principles we faculty and this university strive to uphold that the continued presence of the monument in its current location is a threat to the safety of the people of our university and a daily affront.
Moved to an appropriate place, the “Silent Sam’ monument can become a useful historical artifact with which to teach the history of the university and its still incomplete mission to be “the People’s University.” Until then, the monument will continue to promote malicious values that have persisted too long on this campus, in this state, and in this nation.
This statement was released following a departmental vote. The agreed procedure stipulates that statements of this nature require the support of a minimum of 3/4 of the faculty who participated in the vote. In this instance, 41 faculty members cast ballots.
A University’s Betrayal of Historical Truth (Dec. 9, 2019)
“A great public university should stand for the pursuit of truth, not the promotion of historical distortions and falsehoods. In seeking an expedient solution, the university system has succeeded only in aggravating the problems that the removal of the statue was supposed to address.”
By W. Fitzhugh Brundage, William B. Umstead Distinguished Professor of History at UNC-Chapel Hill, with David Blight and Kevin Levin.
Why Did UNC Give Millions to a Neo-Confederate Group? (Dec. 3, 2019)
“As people who have actually been forgotten by history lie entombed and unrecognized on our campus, it is nothing short of revolting to learn of an institution of higher learning donating $2.5 million to those who would rebuild the Confederacy.”
By William Sturkey, Assistant Professor of History at UNC-Chapel Hill
Silent Sam Was a Symbol of Mob Violence Itself (Aug. 24, 2018)
“For more than a century, Silent Sam stood as a sentinel of white supremacy that lent dignity and respectability to systematic mob violence. This is the larger issue of law and order that is at stake in recent events. It has haunted our state and nation for generations, and as yet it remains unresolved.”
By James Leloudis, Professor of History at UNC Chapel Hill
Silent Sam and other Civil War Monuments Rose on Race (Nov. 23, 2017)
Ph.D. Candidate Brian Fennessy discusses dedication speeches that were given at Confederate soldier monuments across North Carolina with The News & Observer.
Dr. W. Fitzhugh Brundage discusses Confederate Monuments with TCLF, advocating to either put them in proper context or remove them.
Carr Was Indeed Much More Than Silent Sam (Oct. 31, 2017)
“Julian Carr was not merely ‘a man of his times,’ but rather an architect of his times. He was an enemy of enlightenment and democracy whose rhetoric and actions, both then and now, cast dark shadows over the civil and political life of the state and retard our ability to move forward from the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow.”
By William Sturkey, Assistant Professor of History at UNC Chapel Hill
The Future of Silent Sam (Oct. 2, 2017)
Former UNC Chancellor James Moeser, and department members William Sturkey and Fitz Brundage discuss the history and future of “Silent Sam” on WCHL.
Julian Carr Did Wrong, but also a Good Deal Right (Sept. 26, 2017)
“It would behoove participants in the public debate over the Silent Sam statue to take a closer look at a historical personage who has become central therein: Julian S. Carr.”
By Peter Coclanis, Albert R. Newsome Distinguished Professor of History at UNC Chapel Hill
A paneled discussion with Carolina Public Humanities featuring Dr. William Sturkey, Dr. Harry Watson, and moderated by Dr. Lloyd Kramer.
Why America Is Wrestling with Confederate Monuments (Aug. 25, 2017)
PBS Newshour’s William Brangham talks to Peniel Joseph of the University of Texas, W. Fitzhugh Brundage of the University of North Carolina, Pierre McGraw of the Monumental Task Committee.
History Speaks on Intentions Behind Confederate Statues (Aug. 23, 2017)
“The civic leaders who financed and built those monuments made their intentions clear: they sought to normalize white supremacy and give legitimacy to the Jim Crow regime that they began to build in the early 20th century.”
By James Leloudis, Professor of History at UNC Chapel Hill
“Confederate monuments that have aesthetic significance can and should be preserved in museums where they can be properly interpreted by curators and docents. In such settings, they will serve as historical artifacts rather than civic monuments.”
By W. Fitzhugh Brundage, William B Umstead Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
A presentation on the history of Silent Sam:
Important facts about the Silent Sam statue.
By Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina Project Team and Advisory Board
A list of books, articles, and similar resources detailing the history and present controversy surrounding the “Silent Sam” Confederate memorial on the UNC campus.
A guide to primary sources held in the University Archives and other Wilson Library collections about the planning and dedication of Silent Sam and the discussion surrounding the monument in the years since.