Like many Americans, we at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce are saddened and alarmed by the recent events in our sister community of Charlottesville, Virginia. In light of those events, we feel it appropriate to weigh in on an issue closer to home, UNC’s Silent Sam memorial to Confederate soldiers and our current community conversation on race and history.
Our Chamber of Commerce believes in the power of progressive business leadership to affect positive community change, particularly in a time of increasing political and social fragmentation. We embrace and encourage catalytic leadership that craves and creates change. For these reasons we are issuing the following statement.
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce believes a statue honoring those who fought to secede from our nation and for the right to enslave human beings, alienates our visitors, students, business leaders and community members. The memorial’s central position on our campus undermines our community’s shared commitment to diversity and inclusion.
This prominently placed statue is bad for business, bad for our community’s brand, and undermines our well-earned progressive reputation that successfully attracts business, talent and investment in our community.
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce calls for the removal of Silent Sam from its pedestal at the head of campus and for its relocation to a more appropriate place where both the Civil War, and the Jim Crow Era of its installation, can be appropriately remembered. To that end, the Chamber is petitioning the North Carolina Historical Commission to relocate this monument and preserve it with additional context.
We agree with University of Texas President Gregory Fenves when he says, “our duty also compels us to acknowledge that those parts of our history that run counter to the university’s core values, the values of our state and the enduring values of our nation do not belong on pedestals in the heart of [our campus]. We do not choose our history, but we choose what we honor and celebrate on our campus.”
We call on our community to acknowledge, as we do, the lasting negative impacts that slavery, civil war, segregation, and discrimination have had on our community and its people. We pledge our active participation in the courageous conversations needed to address these issues.
As an important first step, our Chamber of Commerce acknowledges and apologizes for opposing the integration of public accommodations in Chapel Hill and we regret our role in supporting segregation that did not end until ordered so by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
While the Civil Rights movement was a catalyst for positive change in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, we believe considerable work remains in order to better understand institutional racism and to support efforts that enfranchise and empower all members of our community.
In September, the Chamber will use its annual State of the Community Report and Conference
to dialogue on these issues. In addition, the Chamber and its Partnership for a Sustainable Community
will reconvene the Community Leadership Council to gather community leaders to address local and regional challenges and capitalize on opportunities.
Joel Levy, Chair
Reagan Greene Pruitt, Vice Chair
Brett Bushnell, Government Affairs Committee Chair
Aaron Nelson, President and CEO
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce is a non-profit, business leadership organization, serving 1,250 local enterprises that employ more than 80,000 people in the greater Chapel Hill region and that supports a diverse and inclusive community where all feel welcome and business thrives.