Yesterday, December 3, massive crowds gathered at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill to oppose the reinstallation of a Confederate monument called “Silent Sam,” after it was toppled by activists in August.
The highly disputed statue fell on the eve of the fall semester as protesters cheered, “Whose campus? Our campus!” Hoisted in 1913 (48 years after the end of the Civil War), the bronze sculpture was funded by the Daughters of the Confederacy to commemorate UNC students who fought as Confederate soldiers. The Raleigh News & Observer reported that UNC spent $390,000 last year on security for the statue.
Yesterday afternoon, UNC Chancellor Carol Folt and the Board of Trustees announced their proposal that Silent Sam would be moved from storage to a newly constructed “free-standing building with state-of-the-art security” with an estimated construction cost of $5.3 million, with an additional $800,000 in yearly maintenance.
Community coalitions Take Action Chapel Hill, Defend UNC, and UNC Campus Y organized a protest opposing the decision for the same night, with a Facebook event that received around 2,000 RSVPs.
In the heat of finals season, students showed up en masse for the action beginning at 7, where Jewish leaders lit a menorah for the second night of Hanukkah, according to the Duke Chronicle. UNC students, students from nearby Duke University, university faculty, and local residents were all present.
“UNC prides itself on diversity and inclusion, and having that statue on this campus obviously shows that it doesn’t stand for diversity and inclusion,” Leeza Mason, a UNC senior spoke at the protest, according to the Chronicle. “That statue stands for racism, the Confederacy and basically keeping slavery on this campus.”
Some speeches were interrupted with jeers from members of the crowd in favor of Silent Sam’s reinstallation. Protesters shouted back, “Racist, go home!” and continued their speeches.
The speeches continued for about an hour before they began their march toward the statue’s previous podium. Around 20 police officers, donning riot shields and helmets, stood around the area, and metal barricades created a wide border around the pedestal.
As protesters encroached on the barricade, officers pushed back, at one point grabbing a banner reading “total liberation from domination” from crowd members. The situation de-escalated as protesters walked away from the barricade and marched toward the administrative building.
Graduate student workers and faculty denounced the decision by announcing a strike until Chancellor Folt reverses the proposal. In September, 54 of UNC’s Black faculty members, supported by over 400 non-Black faculty members, penned a letter urging the university to permanently remove the monument, saying, “A monument to white supremacy, steeped in a history of violence against Black people, and that continues to attract white supremacists, creates a racially hostile work environment and diminishes the University’s reputation worldwide.”