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Police stand guard as Confederate statue is toppled by protestors on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Photo: Gerry Broome/AP.

Protestors Topple Confederate Statue at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Hundreds of protestors came together Monday evening to topple a Confederate monument on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus. Known as Silent Sam, the controversial statue of a soldier holding a gun commemorates fallen students and soldiers who fought in the Civil War.

The gathering began as a demonstration in support of Maya Little, a UNC history doctoral student facing criminal charges for throwing red ink and blood on the Confederate statue in April. Appearing at Monday’s protest, Little spoke of James Lewis Cates, an African American man who was stabbed by a white motorcycle gang on the campus in the early 1970s, and the need for the school to “build monuments to honor those who have been murdered by white supremacy.” She added: “It’s time to tear down Silent Sam. It’s time to tear down UNC’s institutional white supremacy.”

Many have long decried the statue, which was donated to the university by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, as a symbol of the school’s racist heritage. At the time of its unveiling in 1913, one speaker boasted that he’d “horsewhipped a Negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds” for publicly insulting a “Southern Lady.” He also declared that “the whole Southland is sanctified by the precious blood of the student Confederate soldier” and that the cause for which the Confederacy had fought “is not lost.”

In a statement released on Tuesday morning, UNC chancellor Carol L. Folt acknowledged that the statue “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.” Still, suggesting there might be repercussions to come for protestors, she declared that last night’s actions were “unlawful and dangerous” and that “police are investigating the vandalism and assessing the full extent of the damage.”

Debates over the statue have intensified since last year’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. University officials claimed that state laws prevented its removal without the consent of a state historical commission and took little action to move forward with formal processes that would determine the fate of the monument. Meanwhile, the New Observer reports, UNC installed surveillance cameras and spent $390,000 on security for the statue in the past year.

In November, when the UNC board of trustees held a listening session about the case for and against Silent Sam, Little told WTVD-TV that the school was spending too much money “to maintain a statue that glorifies the enslavement of my ancestors. That was dedicated by a man who took pleasure in beating a black woman on our campus, that was erected by a group who praised the KKK as protectors of white womanhood.”

Jerry Wilson, another UNC graduate student, told the New Observer that being a black man on campus was a lonely experience and that “when you have to take the long way between classes in order to avoid the sight of a statue that denies your human dignity, the Southern Part of Heaven can feel an awful lot like hell,” referencing a promotional phrase about Chapel Hill.

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