In Brief

Mellon Foundation Pulls $1.5M Grant After UNC Settles With Neo-Confederate Group

The foundation says the university’s decision to hand over a contested statue to the Sons of Confederate Veterans group, along with $2.5 million, is at odds with the grant’s purpose.

Moments after “Silent Sam” fell (image by and courtesy of Mike Ogle)

After “Silent Sam,” a Confederate monument at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), was toppled by protesters earlier this summer, the university proposed the construction of a $5.3 million building to house the statue that rekindled outrage. Most recently, in a settlement between the university and the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), UNC agreed to not only hand over the monument to the neo-Confederate group, but also fund the statue’s relocation and continued preservation at an estimated cost of $2.5 million. After learning of the deal, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has decided not to move forward with a $1.5 million grant to the university.

In a Letter to the Editor published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Mellon Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander confirms that funding was rescinded in direct response to the settlement. The university’s decision to protect and display the Confederate statue was especially jarring in light of the proposed grant’s intended purpose: “to develop a campuswide effort to reckon with UNC’s historic complicity with slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and memorialization of the Confederacy.”

“The news that the university would direct educational funds to re-enshrining a symbol of the Confederacy — erected, incidentally, at the entrance to the campus in 1913, some 60 years after the fall of the Confederacy and toppled by members of the UNC community in 2018 — was and is shocking,” says Alexander in her text.

A view of the Unsung Founders Memorial with Silent Sam in the background (via Flickr)

Last week, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law sent a letter to the lawyer representing the University of North Carolina System Board of Governors urging that they retract the settlement and “recover the 2.5 million dollars to be paid to support a white supremacist organization whose values are antithetical to UNC’s mission.”

An op-ed authored by members of the UNC Board of Governors was published today in the Raleigh News & Observer. It outlines the terms of the agreement, which stipulates that “Silent Sam” cannot be placed in any of the 14 counties where UNC System campuses are located. The authors also emphasize that the charitable trust fund directed to SCV would draw from interest on the university endowment fund, not tax dollars. “We were given the responsibility to resolve a deeply divisive and personal issue,” the statement reads. “Compromise was a necessity.” Critics of the settlement, however, argue that other options were available to UNC and that legal threats made by SCV were meritless.

This afternoon, NC Policy Watch reported that the UNC System had released a cache of documents related to the settlement, including communications between the Board of Governors and SCV representatives, that is publicly viewable here.

Update 2/14/2020 4:16pm EST: A controversial settlement between the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) has been voided. The settlement, approved in November, would have required UNC to hand over the Confederate monument “Silent Sam” to SCV and pay the group $2.5 million to preserve and house it. This Wednesday, Orange County Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour dismissed the lawsuit on the basis that the plaintiff lacked legal standing.

“They had no ownership of the monument, they had no right under the monument law to bring an action, they had no standing,” said Elizabeth Haddix, from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law,  in a video for the News & Observer.

“We had two amazing lawyers who were able to articulate that the UDC weren’t incorporated at the time so they could not own property, and they only funded one third of the monument, therefore they couldn’t own it,” De’Ivyion Drew, a UNC-Chapel Hill student, told News & Observer.

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