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Silent Sam is the supposedly innocuous name of a statue erected on UNC Chapel Hill’s campus in 1913. Its benefactors, however, had less than innocent intentions upon donating the statue of the Confederate soldier, labeling it as a tribute to the cause of the Confederacy and the beginning of the Civil War.

On Oct. 4, a handful of students congregated on campus at Rockefeller College to address the racial and political atmosphere of the country, particularly in light of the recent events in Charlottesville. History Professor Kevin Kruse, an expert in 20th century U.S. history whose research focuses on segregation and the Civil Rights Movement, led the discussion. As a UNC Chapel Hill alum, it is not surprising that Kruse is especially perceptive of racial issues throughout the country.

Kruse opened the conversation by discussing the repercussions of Charlottesville and the cyclical nature of history. 

“There’s a certain historical amnesia,” Kruse said. He went on to analyze the dangers of romanticizing historical figures known for their advocacy of civil rights.

Eventually, Kruse directed the conversation toward Ivy League privilege and the obligations that accompany it. He emphasized that even in the University students’ orange bubble, it’s paramount that we stay aware of world affairs.

“You can’t understand any of American history if you don’t understand the intersections of racism and politics,” Kruse said. “These dialogues are vitally important.”

The students in attendance expressed positive opinions about the discussion, emphasizing the benefit of Kruse’s historical perspective.

“Kruse’s talk reminded me that it’s easy to forget, in the midst of things, that what happened in Charlottesville this summer plays a part of a larger, continuous problem in the United States,” Kevin Romero ‘18 said. “White supremacy has existed since the beginning of the American narrative, and Charlottesville not only brought it to the surface, but also challenges us—college students and everyone really—not to let it fall through the cracks this time.”

Tori Gorton ‘21, a student from the United Kingdom, found the talk eye-opening and educational as an individual unacquainted with the dark details of American history.

“It was fascinating for me to hear about the ugly history of race and politics in the country and how this is still such a pervasive issue in the U.S. despite how much progress appears to have been made,” Gorton said. “I found the dialogue about the contemporary race issues to be particularly important as the professor highlighted ways in which we, as college students, could tackle racism in our day-to-day lives as well as in whichever careers we go into.”

The talk took place over dinner in the Rockefeller College Private Dining Room at 6 p.m. on Oct. 4. 

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