A controversial Confederate monument on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s campus was toppled by a crowd of over 250 protesters last night, August 20.
Discontented by the university’s protection of the highly disputed statue, “Silent Sam,” the group of students, faculty, and local residents pulled the statue off its platform with a rope, throwing dirt on the fallen figure. The night before the first day of fall classes, participants cheered when the statue fell, shouting, “Whose campus? Our campus!”
The bronze statue was centrally located in the university’s upper quad. Hoisted in 1913, was originally funded by the Daughters of the Confederacy to commemorate UNC students who left the university to fight as Confederate soldiers in the Civil War.
Disagreements surrounding the statue have been rampant throughout decades preceding last nights events. The RaleighNews & Observer reported that UNC spent $390,000 last year on security for the statue.
The protest was organized in solidarity with UNC doctoral student Maya Little, an organizer who faces a criminal trial and honor court trial at UNC for covering Silent Sam in red paint and her own blood this April.
The Daily Tar Heel, an independent newspaper at UNC, reported that Little was present at yesterday’s action. She addressed the crowd: “It’s time to build monuments to honor those who have been murdered by white supremacy. It’s time to tear down Silent Sam. It’s time to tear down UNC’s institutional white supremacy.” Little suggested a memorial to honor James Lewis Cates, a 22-year-old Black man who was murdered on the UNC campus in 1971.
UNC Grad student Jerry Wilson said, “I also encourage you to consider the psychological violence enacted upon Black students and it’s physical manifestations.”
Originally held off-campus, participants marched to the UNC Campus after two hours of protesting and activists’ speeches. They were met with police presence surrounding the statue.
The News & Observer and Daily Tar Heel reported counter-protesters came wearing Confederate flag regalia to argue with activists about the intentions of the statue.
The statue, once felled, was hauled into a truck and shipped to an undisclosed location.
Dwayne Dixon, a professor of Asian studies at UNC, told The Daily Tar Heel after the statue was toppled, “I mean, it feels biblical. It’s thundering and starting to rain. It’s almost like heaven is trying to wash away the soiled, contaminated remains.”
In its absence, a stand recognizing the Daughters of the Confederacy remains.
In the past, the University has defended its decision to maintain the statue based on legislation signed by former Republican Governor Pat McCrory. The bill prohibited the dismantling of any public “object of remembrance” that “commemorates an event, a person or military service that is part of North Carolina’s history.” Courthouse News reports that current Democratic Governor Roy Cooper had called for removing Silent Sam and other Confederate symbols on public land.
The University has condemned the action and says further investigations will ensue.
North Carolina State Senator Valerie Foushee posted a statement, signed by herself, Representative Verla Insko, and Representative Graig Meyer:
It was past time for Silent Sam to be moved from a place of honor on the campus of the University of the People. It is unfortunate that state legislators chose not to hear and pass the bill we filed earlier this year to move the monument to an indoor site where it would stand as an [sic] reminder of the bitter racial struggle that continues to burden our country.
The North Carolina Historical Commission is scheduled to meet Wednesday to consider a request made by Governor Cooper to move three Confederate monuments from the old Capitol Grounds to a Civil War battlefield in Johnston County.