University of North Carolina Gives Confederate Group $2.5 Million in Lawsuit Settlement

The University of North Carolina has agreed to pay a group linked to the promotion of racist ideas $2.5 million in a settlement for a lawsuit that is drawing scrutiny from lawyers.

The case stems from the provenance of the Confederate monument known as "Silent Sam," which was erected on the UNC Chapel Hill campus in 1913 and torn down by protesters in 2018.

A group called the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) filed a suit against the college to gain possession of the statue, despite them having no legal claim to Silent Sam. The day before Thanksgiving, UNC settled the suit, agreeing to not only hand over the statue but also pay the group $2.5 million to preserve it.

Police officer guarding Silent Sam
A police officer guards the Silent Sam statue at UNC Raleigh in 2017. Sara D. Davis / Getty Images

Oddly, the suit was settled the same day it was filed, with a gap of just 10 minutes between the filing time and the consent judgment. The suit was filed in Orange County Superior Court on November 27, at 11:10 a.m, but the UNC board of governors met to approve the settlement an hour before that.

Lawyer T. Greg Doucette, who first publicized the settlement in a thread on Twitter, says it is "strange for a public body—bound by North Carolina's Open Meetings Law—to do something this big, on such a controversial issue, totally in secret."

In addition, the university issued a press release on the settlement before the lawsuit was formally filed.

Doucette says the decision to settle "suggests some complicity on the part of the lawyers both representing the university (Ripley Rand of Womble Bond Dickinson) and advising it internally (General Counsel Tom Shanahan). And it strongly suggests the Board of Governors knew what they were doing was wrong and they wanted it all executed before anyone could mobilize to stop it."

Doucette traveled to the courthouse on December 2 to scan the case documents and release them on the Internet so other lawyers could examine them.

However, the same day the SCV filed a Digital Millennium Copyright Act, falsely stating that the public records were its intellectual property and compelling the file-sharing service that Doucette used to take down the documents.

Doucette has filed a counter-notice to the DMCA takedown, and is "looking into the logistics of suing the SCV for a declaratory judgment to preemptively rule that my posting it was Fair Use and I can post it again as I see fit."

The fate of the Silent Sam statue was a contentious issue on campus. Former UNC Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt had proposed the construction of a $5.3 million "University History and Education Center" to house the statue and provide context for its construction, but it was rejected by the board of governors.

According to the terms of the settlement, Silent Sam is prohibited from being erected on any UNC campus property.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans have come under scrutiny in the past for their messaging, which has compared the Civil War to World War II with Abraham Lincoln as Adolf Hitler.

The group also petitioned the state to issue commemorative license plates to honor Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, who would become the first national leader of the Ku Klux Klan after the war.

The UNC board of governors did not respond to a request for comment.