HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. — A judge on Wednesday voided the settlement that requires UNC Chapel Hill to pay $2.5 million and give the Silent Sam Confederate monument to the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
The ruling came at a hearing held to determine whether the Sons of Confederate Veterans had the legal standing to bring the lawsuit against the UNC System over the statue in the first place. Orange County Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour said the group didn’t have standing.
Five UNC students and a UNC faculty member, with the backing of a national civil rights lawyers group, were trying to intervene in the lawsuit that led to the settlement. Their goal was to reopen the case, stop the deal and recover the $2.5 million payment from UNC-CH to a trust for the Sons of Confederate Veterans to preserve and display the Silent Sam statue. In December, Baddour denied their motion to intervene in the lawsuit but scheduled another hearing to discuss the SCV’s rights and the trust in the original settlement.
The group filed a brief that questioned the court’s jurisdiction, arguing the SCV doesn’t have ownership interest in the Confederate monument.
Nearly 100 prominent UNC alumni and donors also filed a brief, with assistance from former UNC historian Cecelia Moore, arguing that UNC is the only entity with ownership rights and so the lawsuit should be thrown out. They also said the settlement is a “misuse of university funds” that “seriously damages the reputation of the University, which should be committed to historical truth and opposed to modern-day white supremacy.”
Silent Sam stood in the heart of UNC’s campus until it was illegally torn down by protesters in August 2018. After more than a year of debate, the UNC System reached the deal with the SCV in November. It took months of negotiating behind closed doors and included an additional $74,999 payment to the Confederate group.
The decision prompted protests from students and faculty who were concerned about public safety. The Mellon Foundation pulled grant money from UNC as a result and the North Carolina attorney general and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren criticized the deal.
The UNC System has argued that the Board of Governors was faced with two choices: put the monument back up at UNC or make an agreement to get rid of it. The board did not want to risk the statue being re-erected on campus so it made a deal with the SCV, a group that it said had ownership interest and would keep Silent Sam off all UNC System campuses forever.
The UNC System set rules for how the SCV can use the $2.5 million fund, but some UNC students and faculty were concerned the money would be spent to promote violence and would make the SCV, as one student described it, “a very wealthy white supremacist organization.”
The Confederate group has denied that it has ties to racist or white supremacist organizations.
The SCV would have had access to up to $2.5 million to preserve the monument through a charitable trust set up by the UNC System, which could have included a new facility to house and display the statue. The trust agreement outlined that a trustee, Matthew McGonagle, would approve use of the money as needed. The SCV had not released plans for where the statue will go, but the group wasn’t allowed to put it in any of the 14 counties that has a UNC System institution.