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Memorial to Enslaved People Vandalized with Racist Language and Urine at the University of North Carolina

The sculpture, created by Do Ho Suh in 2005, stands close to the former site of “Silent Sam,” a Confederate monument toppled by student activists this summer.

A view of the Unsung Founders Memorial with Silent Sam in the background (via Don McCullough/Flickr)

On Sunday night, interim chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC–Chapel Hill), Kevin Guskiewicz, relayed a message that the campus’s Unsung Founders Memorial had been vandalized with “racist and other deplorable language.” A police report provided by UNC Police also indicates that the culprits urinated on the monument.

The bronze and granite sculpture, created by Do Ho Suh in 2005, depicts hundreds of figurines supporting a tabletop. The memorial was a gift from the class of 2002, inscribed with a dedication to Chapel Hill’s “unsung founders — the people of color bond and free — who helped build the Carolina that we cherish today.”

Guskiewicz says a student’s installation outside of the school’s Hanes Art Center “was also vandalized with hateful language and racial slurs.”

The interim chancellor explains, “These events challenge not only our most fundamental community values, but also the safety of our campus. Lawless behavior will not be tolerated, and those found responsible will be held accountable for their actions.”

This morning, UNC Police spokesperson Randy Young told Hyperallergic that UNC Police are “conducting a thorough criminal investigation” and that UNC Police have sworn out warrants for two suspects.

One suspect is affiliated with the Heirs to the Confederacy, a group that caused distress after they walked around UNC’s campus on March 16 bearing weapons. In North Carolina, it is a felony to possess a firearm on educational property. However, no arrests were made. Instead, UNC police issued warnings to the individuals.

Prior to their visit to UNC’s campus, K. Lance Spivey, chairman of the Heirs to the Confederacy, wrote a blog post about Confederate monuments saying, “I am willing to die for what I believe; I am more so ready to kill for it.”

On the day following the vandalism, Spivey told the The Herald-Sun, “If these acts of vandalism were in fact committed by any member(s) of Heirs, then the perpetrator(s) were acting on their own, in a renegade capacity and unsanctioned by the Board of Directors. I, and Heirs to the Confederacy as a whole, will have no part in the damaging, desecration, or destruction of any historical monument, memorial, or marker, and actually support the protection of all such monuments, be they Confederate or otherwise.”

This week’s vandalization comes after extended protests and student activism on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus regarding Confederate monuments. The Unsung Founders Memorial stands close to the former site of Silent Sam, a statue erected in 1913 (48 years after the end of the Civil War came to a truce) to honor to UNC students who left the university to fight for the Confederacy. On August 20, a crowd of more than 250 student activists toppled the monument, proudly shouting, “Whose campus? Our campus!”

The Daily Tar Heel, the university’s student newspaper, reported that the vandalism was directed at two PhD candidates, Maya Little and Lindsay Ayling, who have been active in protests against Silent Sam leading up to and following when the statue was felled. (In October, Little was found guilty of a misdemeanor charge for smearing blood and red pigment on the statue. However, in February, the university deemed that there had been a violation of Litte’s “basic rights,” and the charges were dropped. )

Little and other activists involved in protests around Silent Sam’s presence on campus have been barred from the area of the original statue by UNC Police.

Following the vandalism, Ayling tweeted, “UNC is failing to disclose details about the racist graffiti; it would harm their PR to fully acknowledge the threat white supremacy poses to our community. Police informed me & another activist (through a lawyer & faculty member) that we were threatened but included no details.”

The Unsung Founders Memorial surrounded by flowers after the vandalization (image by and courtesy John Bowles)

Professor John Bowles, a professor of African American art history at UNC-Chapel Hill, spoke with Hyperallergic. He explained that the “climate on campus has been a mix of relief and apprehension” since Silent Sam was toppled, with many students glad that the monument has been removed, but anxious to learn the university’s ultimate decision.

Bowles says that after Sunday’s vandalism, university police put barricades around the area, but this has not stopped students from placing flowers on and around the monument.

“I see that as a way of rededicating and reconsecrating the memorial after this violation by white supremacists,” Bowles said, calling it a “beautiful, loving response to the hatred and the attempt to terrorize this community.”

The Unsung Founders Memorial surrounded by flowers after the vandalization (image by and courtesy John Bowles)
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