Frustrated by the inaction of university leaders and what they described as their school’s “institutional white supremacy,” students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill stormed a controversial Confederate statue on Monday night — and toppled it with their own hands.
A number of counterprotesters, some of whom wore Confederate flag T-shirts, were seen arguing with student protesters. There were no reports of physical altercations.
“Next up, Charlottesville!” protesters shouted as they felled the statue.
Erected in 1913 and funded by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Silent Sam has been a target of vandalism and protests for decades. In April, UNC doctoral student Maya Little was arrested after dousing the statue with red ink and her own blood.
According to The Raleigh News & Observer, Monday’s student demonstration began as a gathering to support Little, who faces criminal and honor court charges for her protest. But the off-campus event “quickly morphed into a march ... to the UNC campus, where police officers stood at the monument,” the newspaper reported.
“It’s time to build monuments to honor those who have been murdered by white supremacy,” Little told the crowd at one point during the rally. “It’s time to tear down Silent Sam. It’s time to tear down UNC’s institutional white supremacy.”
UNC issued a statement labeling the protesters’ actions “dangerous” and a form of vandalism.
The university has long rejected calls to remove or relocate Silent Sam, citing state law as a barrier to action.
North Carolina, along with a number of other southern states, has in recent years strengthened its laws protecting Confederate statues. In 2015, then-Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed a bill that prohibited state agencies and local governments from dismantling any “object of remembrance” on public property that “commemorates an event, a person or military service that is part of North Carolina’s history.” Only the General Assembly has the power to remove such a monument.
UNC spent $390,000 last year on security for the statue, the News & Observer reported.
Reacting to the news of Silent Sam’s dismantling, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said in a statement that while he “understands that many people are frustrated by the pace of change” and that he shares their frustration, “violent destruction of public property has no place in our communities.”
The toppling of Silent Sam comes one year after a group of activists pulled down a Confederate statue in nearby Durham. Although the activists were arrested and charged for toppling the monument, a judge later dismissed all charges against them ― and the statue was never put back up.
In June, the Southern Poverty Law Center said that at least 110 Confederate monuments and symbols had been removed from public spaces across the United States since 2015 when a white supremacist opened fire in one of America’s oldest black churches and killed nine people.
More than 1,740 Confederate symbols ― including about 170 in North Carolina ― are still standing, the group said.