Education
6:09 pm
Mon November 25, 2013

'Black And Blue Tour' Focuses On African American History At UNC

Unsung Founders Memorial, UNC-Chapel Hill
Credit Don McCullough / Flickr.com
Tim McMillan discusses his Black and Blue Tour of racial history at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Tim McMillan is a senior lecturer at the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill's Department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies.  He is also the creator of The Black and Blue Tour.  In 2001 Tim was teaching a seminar called “Defining Blackness” when he realized how much of UNC’s  own racial history went overlooked.  He started the Black and Blue tour of the UNC campus to help people gain a more nuanced perspective. He knows these conversations can make people uncomfortable.

“My twelfth 'Defining Blackness' class gave a forum and at the end of that I stood up and said I was really happy because so many people were uncomfortable.  We were talking about things  that people wanted to ask black people but were afraid to, and they did and the responses were not always what people wanted.  Those things happen on the tour all the time.”

One of the first stops on the Black and Blue Tour is the Unsung Founders Memorial.  The memorial was donated by the class of 2002 and is a marker of the history of African Americans at UNC.  It sits in one of the most prominent locations on campus, but Tim McMillan says anyone who walks by it can see that memorial almost invisible in the landscape.

“It is small and low and dark and contrasts very poorly, I would say, with Silent Sam who is tall and monumental.”

The Silent Sam memorial is one of the most iconic on UNC’s campus and pays tribute to Confederate soldiers.  Erected in 1913, the statue has been an ongoing topic of controversy, especially in recent years because it contrasts sharply with the Unsung Founders Memorial. 

“[The Unsung Founders Memorial] is a picnic table with stools around it and when people sit at this monument they often put their feet on the little people that are holding the table up.  The little people of course are the African -Americans the monument is supposed to be celebrating.  I took people on this tour fairly recently and there were beer cans stuffed in between the statues and cigarettes stubbed out in the inscription.” 

McMillan is surprised that only recently, in the 21st century, has the campus begun to acknowledge its own African American legacy.

“It is the fact that so many people in the U.S. are still so unaware of the many histories, of the many ways of reading histories, of the meaning of history to so many people, that how one could see this as an appropriate way of memorializing the past particularly in the context of Silent Sam.”

But McMillan concedes these are not easy problems to solve.

“It is like Iraq.  If we pull down all the statues of Saddam Hussein are we going to forget what he was in 50 years?  The same question can be asked, if we get rid of all the memorials of the Confederacy, are we going to then pretend it never happened?  With the new monuments the concern is we just paid a whole lot of money for it, it was a good idea it was the gift of the class of 2002 and it would be offensive to them to say well your idea really sucked let’s get rid of it.  The question is how to connect it to stories that are useful,  explanatory and inclusive.”

Tim McMillan is senior lecturer in UNC’s Department of African African -American and Diaspora Studies.  You can take the Black and Blue Tour for free.  Tim says he is easy to reach just track him down on the UNC site or contact the visitors bureau in the Morehead Planetarium.