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Protestors Pulled Down a Confederate Statue at the University of North Carolina

“Silent Sam,” as the monument is known, had been a source of controversy for decades

Police stand guard around the Confederate statue Silent Sam after it was toppled by protestors at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (AP Images)
smithsonian.com

A group of 250 protestors marched on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus Monday night, protesting a controversial Confederate monument known as "Silent Sam" dedicated to students who fought in the Civil War. By the end of the evening, some of them had succeeded in pulling the statue down.

As Jane Stancill reports for the local paper, News & Observer, the toppling of the statue was preceded by a rally supporting Maya Little, a UNC doctoral student who is facing criminal charges and UNC Honor Court charges for splashing Silent Sam with red ink and her own blood in April. According to Charlie McGee and Myah Ward of the Daily Tar Heel, UNC’s student newspaper, Little addressed the crowd of demonstrators and called the statue “a memorial to white supremacy, and to slave owners. And to people who murdered my ancestors.”

Protestors covered Silent Sam with banners whose slogans included, “For a world without white supremacy.” Meanwhile, a group of demonstrators manoeuvred behind the banners to tug the statue down with ropes. Footage from the scene shows the crowd jubilantly cheering the toppling of the statue and covering the monument with dirt on the night before classes were scheduled to start.

“I feel liberated—like I’m a part of something big,” a first-year student named Natalia Walker told McGee and Ward of the Daily Tar Heel. “It’s literally my fourth day here.”

Police had been monitoring the protest, but did not prevent demonstrators from taking the statue down.

Silent Sam was erected on the UNC campus in 1913, with support from the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a group that also sponsored the Confederate Stone Mountain Memorial and attempts to rename highways for Confederate generals. The UNC statue depicts a soldier holding a gun without ammunition, which is why it's known as “Silent Sam,” according to Susan Svrluga of the Washington Post. A panel on the side of the monument shows a woman, representing the state, urging a student to join the fight for the Confederacy.

At the dedication of the statue, industrialist and white supremacist Julian Carr proclaimed that “the whole Southland is sanctified by the precious blood of the student Confederate soldier.” He also bragged that he had “horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because … she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady,” reports Alan Blinder of the New York Times.

Silent Sam has been a source of controversy for decades, but calls to remove it intensified after the deadly white nationalist rallies that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia last summer. According to Blinder, university officials said last year that taking down the statue was "in the best interest of the safety of our campus,” but maintained that they were unable to remove it due to a 2015 state law stipulating that a “monument, memorial or work of art owned by the state” cannot be “removed, relocated or altered in any way” without the approval of a state historical commission.

After Silent Sam was toppled, the university chancellor Carol L. Folt acknowledged in a statement that, "The monument has been divisive for years, and its presence has been a source of frustration for many people not only on our campus but throughout the community.”

However, she added, “last night’s actions were unlawful and dangerous, and we are very fortunate that no one was injured. The police are investigating the vandalism and assessing the full extent of the damage.”

Following the exuberant scene of Monday’s protests, Silent Sam lay on the ground for several hours, before being carted away to an undisclosed location.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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