For a silent symbol, Sam certainly keeps stuff stirred up, doesn't he?
There are two Sams I dig, and for both of them, I've
had a lot of explaining to do.
The first was the song Sam by Olivia Newton John.
♪♫♬ Sam, Sam, you know where I am
And the door is open wide. ♪♫♬
It is sappy and saccharine-y and about as soulful as my cherished Supertramp's Greatest Hits album.
There is, however, no accounting for musical taste and dang it, I love Sam.
The other Sam of whom I'm a fan is the one who was just so ingloriously yanked from his pedestal at UNC.
Defending one's appreciation for a Confederate Civil
War symbol has been tougher,
because as soon as you start telling people
that it's important to retain memorials to the past -
especially the ugliest parts of the past - many of them
start tuning out, their eyes glazing over.
A longtime fan once vowed to never read another column by me after I argued years ago for Sam to remain in place on UNC's campus so that future generations will know what he fought for and how we got to where we are today.
"That's what history books are for," the woman, named Sonya, retorted.
T'aint necessarily so, I countered.
The state of Texas, for instance, a few years ago approved new history textbooks that barely mention slavery - slaves are referred to as "workers" - which may be why some Texas Tech students answered thusly when asked “Who won the Civil War?”:
“Which Civil War?” or "The one in 1965?"
How much do you want to bet that many of those most offended by Symbolic Sam's presence wouldn't know Robert E. Lee from that dude who replaced Teddy Pendergrass as lead singer for Harold Melvin & the Blue
That, to me, is more offensive than any statue.
Even Sam's staunchest supporters should've known that he was going to eventually have to relinquish his prominent perch on campus, although I loved saluting him each day when strolling past en route to teach my writing class at UNC.
Gov. Cooper recently recommended that three Confederate statues be marched off State Capitol grounds to the historic site at Bentonville was solomonic.
The State Historical Commission commission rejected that suggestion, but acknowledged that the state needs more monuments honoring African Americans.
While attending a re-enactment of the Battle of Bentonville a couple of years ago, I knew I was standing on hallowed ground, ground that had been saturated with the blood of men who'd died to help preserve slavery, sure - but also the blood of men who'd died to set people free.
Bentonville, the site of the last major Civil War battle, would be a fitting final home for Sam, a place whose historical significance would match the significance with which many have imbued the old dude.
Around the same time I attended that Bentonville battle, another one was raging over monuments and flags and, yes, Silent Sam. I asked retired East Carolina University history professor Donald Collins how this issue could be settled once and for all time.
“I have always argued for compromise,” Collins said then. “Years ago, when controversy arose about the Confederate monument on the Pitt County courthouse grounds, I argued for leaving it in place and adding there, or in some satisfactory place, a statue of a soldier from one of the state’s black regiments.”
Splendid idea, old bean. (Union Col. Beauregard S. Saunders cut a fine figure in his uniform, I hear.)
"A good compromise," Winston Churchill said, "is one that leaves both sides equally dissatisfied."
Trust me: if you put Silent Sam at Bentonville, both sides - those who want him turned into scrap iron and those who want him revered but are actually too lazy to drive to Johnston County to see him - will be equally dissatisfied.
But at least then we could turn our attention to
something really important and not have to re-fight -
every few years - the fight over honoring those those