A Digital Heritage of Confederate Memorialization: Julian Carr and Silent Sam
In 1908 Confederate Veteran reported that a “movement was inaugurated to erect a monument on the campus of the University at Chapel Hill to the boys who put aside their books and doffed uniforms, shouldered their guns, and went to the front in defense of a cause their fathers knew to be right.” That ambition to commemorate the University’s Confederate heritage placed Chapel Hill among many early 20th-century Southern communities memorializing the vanquished Confederacy. A thousand people eventually gathered in June, 1913 “under the oaks of the University campus” to dedicate the memorial to the University of North Carolina’s Confederate soldiers, one of 23 Confederate monuments dedicated in the US in 1913. That monument today known as “Silent Sam” was one of 185 monuments erected at the height of Confederate memorialization between 1909 and 1913 (compare the Southern Poverty Law Center’s inventory of Confederate monuments Google doc). The Chapel Hill dedication came a half century after Gettysburg, when Jim Crow segregation was firmly entrenched in the South and a spirit of White reconciliation characterized much of the spirit of public discourse between North and South. A month after the Chapel Hill ceremony, Confederate veterans (including several Chapel Hill speakers) would gather at Gettysburg with their former combatants in one of the most public statements of shifting regional sentiments and White reconciliation.
Last week that Chapel Hill monument was toppled during a protest, and activism to remove the monument reveals some familiar divides over Confederate material heritage while it reflects the distinctive 21st-century contours of that discourse. On the one hand, the discussion in Chapel Hill illuminates how digitized historical data has shaped an increasingly well-informed discourse over the Confederacy’s memorial landscape. We know an enormous amount about the men and women who spearheaded the movement to erect the Chapel Hill memorial as well as the history of the monument space in the subsequent century, primarily because of the UNC Archives’ thorough documentation of the monument’s heritage. On the other hand, much of the defense of such monuments remains firmly committed to the same neo-Confederate ideology that was hatched in the late-19th and early 20th centuries, and the University and many of North Carolina’s highest elected officials have been reluctant if not militantly resistant to uprooting the monument.
There is nothing especially unique about the ideologues who supported the erection of the Silent Sam statue. However, a century later the most jarring comments uttered at the dedication are those of Julian Shakespeare Carr, whose speech has been consistently invoked by activists advocating for the removal of Silent Sam and many other Confederate monuments. Like his fellow 1913 dedication speaker Henry Armand London, Carr had been a North Carolina student when the Civil War broke out, and Carr enlisted in the 3rd North Carolina Confederate Cavalry in 1864. Carr became an enormously wealthy industrialist after the war, and he donated liberally to Universities (including UNC), ministerial missions, and Confederate causes (e.g., veteran’s hospitals) while speaking tirelessly on behalf of the United Confederate Veterans after its formation in 1889. He delivered speeches at numerous Confederate memorial dedications, and he even appeared at the 1922 dedication of a Ulysses S. Grant Memorial in Washington.
None of his speaking appearances has secured Carr as much visibility today as his 1913 speech at the Chapel Hill memorial dedication. In the midst of a voluminous 16-page speech, Carr casually mentioned that “One hundred yards from where we stand, less than ninety days perhaps after my return from Appomatox [sic], I horse-whipped 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 afterward slept with a double-barreled shotgun under my head.”
There is no record of how his audience responded to Carr’s story of racist violence, and it passed without comment for nearly a century. In 1993 Walter B. Weare cited the shocking story in his study Black Business in the New South: A Social History of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, and Carr’s speech was quoted in Leslie Brown’s 2008 study Upbuilding Black Durham: Gender, Class, and Black Community Development in the Jim Crow South. The speech became part of Silent Sam activism in 2011 when graduate student Adam Domby shared the quote in a letter to the editors of UNC’s The Daily Tar Heel. That letter contemplating the removal of Silent Sam significantly shaped how many activists painted Confederate memorialists in general and Julian Carr in particular.
Like many Southerners, Carr’s persistent racism stood somewhat at odds with his periodic advocacy for African American entrepreneurial, educational, and religious ventures. In about 1879, for instance, Carr agreed to fund the University training of William Gaston Pearson, a former captive working in Carr’s factory, and Gaston graduated from Shaw University in 1886. Carr provided funding to a variety of African American entrepreneurial ventures; he supported the families of African American soldiers during the Spanish-American War; and in 1909, Carr became Treasurer for the Trustee Board of the National Religious Training School and Chautauqua, an African American school in Durham.
Yet his paternalism for Black neighbors could not conceal his support for White supremacy in a biracial New South. In 1899, for instance, Carr spoke at the Agricultural and Mechanical College for the Colored Race in Greensboro, North Carolina (now North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University), with Raleigh’s The Farmer and Mechanic suggesting the invitation came “because of his well-known friendliness to the negro and because his benefactions and good advice have given him the confidence of the race.” Carr told his audience that the solution to lynchings “lies with the Negro,” arguing that “If the negro will make everlasting war upon the brute element of his race, until the indefensible and unpardonable crime of rape is stamped out, then the cause being removed, there will be no effect.” Carr suggested that “the question of the future of the Southern negro is one that must be deferred for settlement until we have restored safety and a feeling of security to the humblest woman in the poorest cabin in the remotest corner of the most thinly settled portion of the South. The Southern white man cannot restore that security. He can help the enforcement of the law, but as the loss of the sense of safety did not come through him, he cannot restore it. That is the mission of the leaders of the negro race.”
Carr argued against African American suffrage in his Greensboro speech, and in the same year he was counseling African Americans in Greensboro to eliminate their “brute element,” he was lobbying for a Constitutional Amendment that would severely restrict African American voting rights. Carr lamented that as “terrible” as defeat had been to the former Confederacy, it was “not comparable to crime of vesting eight millions [sic] of ignorant vicious colored people with the franchise. … the civilized world has already been forced to acknowledge that the act was worse than a mistake—it was a crime.” Carr’s advocacy for seizing the vote from African Americans was accompanied by raw paternalistic racism that would dot the hundreds of lectures he delivered into the 1920s. In 1909, for instance, Carr argued that “I believe that slavery was a Divine institution. … The bringing of the ignorant Africans to these shores, was a part of God’s plan to evangelize the world.”
In 1923 the elderly Carr was retiring as Commander in Chief of the United Confederate Veterans, and at the New Orleans convention the new officers were openly Ku Klux Klan members. Carr’s sentiments on the Klan became clear when the convention discussed the implications of the term “rebel” and Carr rose to exclaim “’I am a rebel, and a Ku Klux too.’” Carr’s sympathies to the hooded order are not surprising, and he had proudly confessed his allegiance to the Klan earlier in his life. In October, 1908 a Raleigh newspaper reported on a speech by a former Judge that “denounced with great vigor the Ku-Klux Klan.” The paper indicated that “Such brave soldiers as General Julian S. Carr, Major Robert Bingham and others publicly condemned the attacked upon the Ku-Klux.” Raleigh’s The Farmer and Mechanic reported that Carr “expressed himself very plainly in Raleigh this week … ‘I was a Ku Klux,’ he said, `and I am not ashamed of it’” (also noted in Raleigh’s The News and Observer).
Carr would remain a mouthpiece for standard neo-Confederate historicizing the rest of his life. In a 1915 speech in Richmond, Carr marched through all the standard talking points of Confederate revisionist histories: he proclaimed “the Southern people were neither rebels nor traitors”; slavery at the South was the gentlest and the most beneficent servitude mankind has ever known”; “Lee’s army was constituted largely of Southern gentlemen”; and “Notwithstanding their overwhelming superiority in numbers, in resources, in equipment, in supplies of every description, the South was not beaten on the field, for it was the blockade of Southern ports that forced the surrender.” Carr also entertained romantic memories of enslavement and the sense of duty and affinity he believed captives felt for the people who owned them. For example, in 1919 Carr told a Methodist group in Columbus, Ohio that “I am greatly in love with the civilization that obtained in the Old South prior to the Civil War. My father was a slave-owner –and I remember how we of the South went forth to battle, with what confidence we committed our dear ones and our homes to the watchful care of our slaves and we were never disappointed.”
Two months after Carr proudly proclaimed his Klan affiliation at the United Confederate Veterans convention, the University of North Carolina awarded him an honorary degree “for his versatile services to the State and University, and the crowd responded to his recognition with thunderous applause.” In April, 1924 Carr died on a trip to Chicago, with the 78-year-old’s funeral coming in Durham a week later. The hagiography of Carr routinely celebrated him as a philanthropist, with Confederate Veteran rhapsodizing that “though he amassed wealth, he did not die rich, for he gave away even as he gathered.” The Atlanta Constitution celebrated that Carr “gave lavishly to colleges and universities, white and colored. … He contributed to the building of churches, libraries, memorial halls, and was known throughout the south as a philanthropist of the most liberal and unselfish type.” That implication that Carr had supported African American philanthropic causes and been a loyal ally to the community became a staple of Carr’s mourners. The Asheville Citizen-Times reported on May 1st that “The colored people of the city [Durham] immediately upon learning of the death passed resolutions of sorrow. General Carr was greatly beloved by the negroes of the community. He had ever been their friend and champion, and he had won their undying love and admiration.” Reporting on Carr’s funeral four days later, the Asheville newspaper again suggested he had enjoyed a broad circle of Black friends, indicating that “Many negroes attended the funeral, bespeaking eloquently of the service the deceased has rendered for the colored population of the city.”
One of the first public calls for the removal of Silent Sam came in March 1965, when a letter to the Daily Tar Heel advocated the removal of the monument. Al Ribak wrote that “The primary purpose of, the `memorial’ was to associate a fictitious `honor’ with the darkest blot on American history, the fight of southern racists to keep the Negro peoples in a position of debased subservience. … the existence on the UNC campus of a monument to men who were militant white supremists and extremists of the worst kind is no less an affront to the Negro peoples and the intelligentsia than is the gaudy Confederate flag flying from the lily-white dome of Alabama’s capitol.” Two days later one respondent complained that “Ribak is trying to shame my ancestors for fighting for what they believed in,” while others raised arguments still used by Confederate defenders: e.g., one reader suggested that “The idea that Negro slavery was the main issue of the war is absurd. General Lee was as strongly against slavery as was Abraham Lincoln, and General Sherman as strong a believer in it as was any Southerner. In fact, such great men as Adams, Jefferson, and Washington owned slaves, are we to tear down our monuments to them? The monument is not to `militant white supremists and extremists,’ but to brave men.”
In 1990 The Daily Tar Heel championed removing the monument because “First, the statue is racist because it commemorates the Confederate soldiers who fought for states’ rights and their ability to legalize slavery. Second, the statue promotes sexism with the legend that Sam’s gun (which has been silent for years) goes off every time a virgin goes by.” In 2003 faculty member Gerald C. Horne observed that “we are routinely told that the reason monuments to the thankfully departed Confederate States of America litter the landscape, including the centerpiece of this campus, i.e. `Silent Sam,’ is because this is merely a monument to history and that depositing this monstrosity where it belongs in the nearest museum would be like stowing away history.” Horne observed that Iraqis were rapidly toppling monuments to Saddam Hussein at that very moment, yet “where are the voices from this campus bellowing in outrage against Iraqis `destroying their history’ by destroying statues of their erstwhile leader?”
Julian Carr’s raw 1913 dedication quote figured prominently in increasingly divisive discussions about the Chapel Hill monument. In 2012, for instance, the Real Silent Sam Coalition used Carr’s words to stress to the UNC administration that the “statue stands at the gateway to our university as an unwelcoming ambassador to many faculty, employees, students, and visitors. The absence of information about the context in which the statue was erected contributes to a problematic social amnesia regarding our past, its ramifications in the present, and its lessons for the future.” Yet in the wake of the monument’s toppling last week the University has continued to argue that it could not legally remove the monument (the University interprets a 2015 North Carolina law as protection for the Chapel Hill Confederate memorial). UNC Professor Malinda Lowery wrote on behalf of UNC’s Center for the Study of the American South on August 20th and called the statue “a toxic symbol.” A day later, “Silent Sam” came down, moving a North Carolina State Representative to complain that “We need to stop being cowards in the face of political correctness,” adding that “If we don’t stand up and put a stop to this mob rule, it could lead to an actual civil war.” One member of the UNC Board of Governors warned that “Silent Sam Will Be Reinstalled as Required by State Law WITHIN 90 Days. Criminals who destroyed state property at UNC and police who did nothing will be held accountable” (he has detailed his complaints on YouTube). Meanwhile, Carr’s dark philanthropic shadow reaches beyond the UNC campus: Carr was a major donor to Duke University when it was known as Trinity College, and Duke has been contemplating re-naming its History department building named for Carr. A Washington Post article on Duke’s consideration of renaming the building used the 1913 dedication speech quote.
Monuments are appealing material things for ideologues because they masquerade as timeless public expressions of an objective history. Nevertheless, statues inevitably express particular social and political perspectives that a community may subsequently embrace, dispute, or wholly disown, and in Chapel Hill Julian Carr’s 1913 speech makes it difficult to ignore the sentiments he and his peers openly embraced. A century later it is difficult to fathom that the Chapel Hill monument was not intended to be a timeless public testament to the anti-Black racism of unrepentant Confederates like Julian Carr. There is an enormously rich digital history of these men and women who aspired to celebrate the Confederacy’s heritage, and it is increasingly difficult to ignore the record of raw racism so many of them left for posterity.
Undated color postcard image of UNC Confederate Monument, Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards (P077), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill
Confederate Memorial postcard, circa 1943 Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards (P077), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill.
Confederate Memorial circa 1940-1960, Samuel M. Boone Photographs #P0084, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Confederate Memorial graffiti April 8, 1968, Hugh Morton Photographs and Films #P0081, copyright 1968, North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library.
Confederate Memorial in Klan robes, 1970, Yackety Yack, 1970
Confederate Memorial Martin Luther King rally 1997, John Kenyon Chapman Papers #5441, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Confederate Memorial cleaning 2015, The Daily Tar Heel, July 8, 2015.
Julian Carr, November 23, 1923, National Photo Company Collection (Library of Congress)
Amanda M. Black and Andrea F. Bohlman
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W. Fitzhugh Brundage
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2015 What Can and Can’t Be Said: Race, Uplift, and Monument Building in the Contemporary South. Yale University press, New Haven, CT.