Notice that a federal lawsuit may be brought against UNC if no action is taken to remove the Confederate monument Silent Sam from the Chapel Hill campus was sent to the university on Wednesday.
A letter was sent to officials at UNC – Chapel Hill and the UNC System on behalf of 12 students, the UNC Black Law Students Association and Professor Erika K. Wilson. The notice came from Hampton Dellinger of the Boies Schiller Flexner law firm, which has offices across the United States.
Dellinger, a Chapel Hill native who splits his time at the firm between North Carolina and Washington, DC, wrote in the letter that the statue “violates federal anti-discrimination laws by fostering a racially hostile learning environment.”
The letter continues, “we request that you authorize [Silent Sam’s] immediate removal in order to avoid needless litigation.”
Dellinger argues that the monument “runs afoul of federal law” in the form of various provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Silent Sam has been a target of protests for many years. Those protests have intensified in recent weeks as students held a rally last month on the first day of the new academic year. Chancellor Emeritus James Moeser told WCHL at the August rally that his mind had recently changed and that he felt it was time for Silent Sam to be taken down.
Moeser said that a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August changed his thinking about the monument’s place on campus. A counter protester was killed in Charlottesville when an attendee of the Unite the Right rally drove his vehicle into a crowd.
Critics of Silent Sam have also pointed to the timing of its placement on the campus in 1913, calling it a marker of white supremacy more than a war memorial.
UNC Chancellor Carol Folt has maintained she would order the removal of the monument if she felt the university had the unilateral legal authority to do so. But the university does not have that authority, according to Folt, due to a 2015 law passed by the Republican-led General Assembly preventing the removal of historical monuments from state grounds.
Dellinger writes in Wednesday’s letter to UNC that “that position is wrong as it ignores UNC’s overriding obligation to comply with federal anti-discrimination laws.” He adds, “UNC’s state law excuse is an insufficient response to a breach of federal law.”
Dellinger said in an interview with WCHL that the university had confirmed receipt of the letter but had offered no “substantive” response.
UNC vice chancellor of university communications Joel Curran issued the following statement to WCHL:
“We have received the letter and understand that for many people the Confederate Monument’s presence can engender strong emotions, and we are respectful of those emotions. While we do not have the unilateral legal authority to move the monument, these students have raised questions about federal civil rights law that will need to be addressed, and we will work with our Board of Trustees and Board of Governors to do so. In the meantime, the Chancellor’s Task Force on UNC-Chapel Hill History is developing an interpretive plan for McCorkle Place that will include signage presenting historical context of how the monument was erected as part of a broader effort to tell the honest and accurate history of the University.”