By Anne Branigin, The Root
Some are calling it a “payoff.” Others have called it “hush money” and “reparations.” The University of North Carolina System is calling it “a lawful and lasting path” to prevent Confederate statues and insignia from finding homes on its campuses.
But what it is, in practical terms, is $2.5 million handed directly from North Carolina’s public university system into the open palms of a Confederate group, which will bear the responsibility for taking and preserving “Silent Sam,” UNC-Chapel Hill’s controversial Confederate statue.
According to The Raleigh News and Observer, citing documents the UNC System dropped Monday afternoon, the money given to the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) can be used toward constructing a facility to house the statue, as well as transporting, repairing and maintaining it. This is on top of a separate $74,999 deal the UNC System trustees made with the group, which prevents the SCV from flying Confederate flags, banners or signs at the system’s 17 campuses for the next five years.
If that number has too many 9s to not be fishy, you’re right. The trustees cut the check just short of $75,000 so Attorney General Josh Stein wouldn’t have to approve its use of state funds.
The trustees are spinning the settlement as a necessary and masterful stroke of negotiation—as is the SCV.
“Both parties agreed the violent protests about Silent Sam over the past several years were not appropriate for a college campus,” SCV leader Kevin Stone said in a statement. “Neither party wanted student, staff, or law enforcement to get hurt or worse over Silent Sam and it was with that spirit we went to the table to sort this problem out.”
SCV leader Kevin Stone referred to the deal as a “major strategic victory” that ensures “the future of Silent Sam” and the “legal and financial support for our continued and very strong actions in the future,” reports the News and Observer.
But backlash to the settlement has been widespread. As NBC News reports, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation withdrew a $1.5 million grant it pledged to Chapel Hill after it learned about the deal. The UNC community is also speaking out against the trustees’ actions. In an interview with NBC News, UNC-Chapel Hill history professor W. Fitzhugh Brundage called the settlement, “hush money, in hopes the Sons of the Confederacy won’t make any more noise.”
Brundage also pointed out the board was “subsidizing a version of history that is not accepted by historians at major American universities,” writes the News and Observer.
In an affidavit filed by Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, undergraduate student William Holland wrote, “It disgusts me that the university I attend would shirk its basic academic and moral responsibility to work toward an honest reckoning with the past, and instead would pay reparations to white supremacists.”
That was echoed at a protest on the Chapel Hill campus earlier this month. According to an earlier News and Observer report, Tamia Sanders, a UNC Senior and leader in the Black Congress, told demonstrators, “UNC has negotiated with and invested in white supremacy.”
She continues, “we’re protesting the fact that UNC has given Neo-confederates $2.5 million to protect and preserve a statue dedicated to white supremacy, dedicated to the enslavement of Black people and threatening Black students, when UNC has failed to protect and preserve their own student body.”
This article originally appeared in The Root.