Daughters of Confederacy wanted Silent Sam returned to them over the summer

In an email recently obtained by ABC11, the former president of the North Carolina Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy requested that UNC-Chapel Hill return the controversial Confederate monument known as Silent Sam back to the UDC.

It was the morning after Silent Sam was toppled by protesters on Aug. 21 that Peggy Woodlief Johnson emailed UNC Board of Trustees Chair Haywood Cochrane -- requesting in her words that, "The boy soldier, referred to as Silent Sam, be returned to the United Daughters of the Confederacy."

Johnson stepped down as president last October and in her interview with ABC11, she wanted to be clear that she no longer speaks for The Daughters, only for herself.

Full coverage of the Silent Sam issue

"I was upset and I wrote that (email)," she said. "It makes me angry that they do not want to honor the memorial for what it was, the purpose that it was put there for."

It was the United Daughters of the Confederacy who gifted Silent Sam to UNC in 1909. In 1913, the university erected the statue in McCorkle Place to honor Confederate alumni who served and died.

But it's been a lightning rod of controversy in the decades since -- students and townspeople blasting the statue as a monument to white supremacy in the slave-holding Confederate states.

In Johnson's email, she writes, "(The Daughters) are willing to take possession of both the base and the sculpture, we have been saddened that the message of this monument has been so misconstrued. He no longer belongs on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill."

"Yes, I wrote the letter. But it doesn't matter now because I'm no longer the division president," Johnson said to ABC11.

It was anti-Silent Sam group Hillsborough Progressives Taking Action who first brought Johnson's letter to light this month, through a Freedom of Information Act Request.

They think UNC should take Johnson up on her offer. Johnson said it's too late.

"Now after all these months and they finally decided to look at (the email)," Johnson said. "They waited too late. I was no longer president."

We asked Johnson if anti-Silent Sam groups had publicly accepted her offer to take the statue back could the months of unrest been avoided. She told us, "That makes no difference now. Because it can't. It couldn't. They didn't."

No longer president of The Daughters, Johnson serves as a rank-and-file member of the group and defers to the current leadership -- calling on UNC to follow the state law imposed in 2015 that bars the removal of historic monuments from public spaces.

Meantime, the university is still struggling to find a compromise. The Board of Governors rejected a plan this month to build a $5 million museum to house the statue.
Copyright © 2021 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.