After the brutal murder of an American by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, it is all our moral duty to say loud and clear: Enough is Enough. We will not allow domestic terrorism to hurt our moral values. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as the flagship of the state university system, can no longer stay on the sidelines. As President John F. Kennedy reminded us, “the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.”
As a first step, the university ― the students, faculty and administrators ― should at last join hands to tear down the celebration of racism that is the statue on campus known as Silent Sam. Excise the ugly tumor that sits at the heart of our beloved university and replace it with a celebration of our values. Silent Sam is undeniably part of the fabric of the university’s history but he is no part of the people’s university. The statue is unpatriotic and demonstrates contempt for the U.S. constitution. The evils of the past should be commemorated not celebrated. We should never forget slavery but likewise never glorify its proponents. We should teach the evils of white supremacy not give succor to its modern-day adherents.
Yes, this action is symbolic, yet it is powerful. New Orleans, Baltimore and Lexington are removing confederate statues that besmirch their community’s values. Replacing Silent Sam is also part of the university’s charge as a place of learning. The pursuit of knowledge allows us to evolve, progress, reform our ways, and right the wrongs of the past. We have known for a long time that that Silent Sam is a celebration of hatred and bigotry. It welcomes visitors with a message of contempt for the values and charter of the University of North Carolina.
What should replace it?
North Carolinians will have their own preferences but I propose a celebration of a true Tar Heel who transformed America for good. Pauli Murray’s ancestors built the University of North Carolina ― some with their hands, others with their money. Her great-great grandfather Strudwick Smith joined the Board of Trustees in 1821. When Pauli’s Grand Aunt Mary Ruffin Smith died in 1885 she left 1,400 acres south of Morgan Creek to the university which they sold a few years later. The proceeds brought electricity, heat and plumbing to campus.
Pauli Murray broke through every barrier she faced. Her senior thesis in law school provided the basis for Thurgood Marshall’s argument in in Brown v. Board of Education. She founded the National Organization of Women. Her concept of Jane Crow was the foundation of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court victory in Reed v. Reed, which gave a woman’s right to equal protection. In 1977 she became the first black woman to be ordained an Episcopal Priest. She celebrated her first Eucharist at The Chapel of the Cross, a stones throw from Silent Sam, where her enslaved grandmother had been baptized 123 years before. Despite all of this she was rejected from graduate school at Carolina because her skin was too dark.
Pauli Murray lived as a gender non-conformist ― blurring lines and pushing boundaries in her dress, look and presentation. Today she is embraced as a transgender icon, literally a Saint. In 2012 she was raised to the pantheon of ‘Holy Women, Holy Men,’ by the Episcopal Church.
Her family brought bathrooms to Carolina.
Now that is a Tar Heel to be proud of, and celebrate.