Education

Day after protest, Silent Sam controversy continues at UNC-Chapel Hill

Posted August 23

— The day after 800 people gathered at McCorkle Place to demand the removal of the Silent Sam Confederate statue from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus, several protesters still sit at the base of the statue, determined to continue fighting.

"We are going to continue to stand here until Silent Sam is taken down," protester Mario Benavente said.

On Wednesday night, student organizations sent a statement to Chancellor Carol Folt, Gov. Roy Cooper, the UNC Board of Trustees and the North Carolina Historical Commission stating that the student community will continue to "act and flight every single day until Silent Sam is taken down-one way or another."

"The university's claims of prioritizing student safety and protection are deceptive. As the events of Charlottesville and Durham have shown, Confederate statues have become a symbol and rallying point for white supremacists, neo-Nazis and alt-right organizations," the statement read.

A student was arrested along with other protesters during the rally Tuesday night. At times, police had difficulty controlling the crowds as protesters chanted and marched for several hours, taking to Franklin Street and forcing the closure of the road, as officers dressed in riot gear guarded the monument.​

The statue was surrounded by two sets of barricades beginning Tuesday morning in an effort to prevent protesters getting close to it. The barricades were taken down Wednesday morning.

The barriers, combined with the fact that the statue is continually monitored by surveillance cameras, prompted many to state that Silent Sam is better protected than any student on the campus.

University officials said two people were arrested by campus police in connection with the protest. One man was arrested by Chapel Hill police and charged with wearing a mask on public property and resisting arrest- both misdemeanor charges.

Those were not affiliated with the university, UNC officials said.

Protestors pointed to this speech given at the statue's dedication in 1915. When a man named Julian Carr spoke to the crowd about the purest strain of the Anglo Saxon race and whipping a negro woman.

"A statue celebrating those who really wanted to enslave others," Benavente said.

Another person arrested was 19-year-old Claude Wilson, a UNC student who was taken into custody after officers said he retreated from the crowd and pushed away officers when he was told to move.

The crowd dwindled by about 10 p.m., although many protesters remained seated by the barricades around the statue late Tuesday night.

Some who attended the rally were calling for the statue to remain on the campus, including alumni Cheyenne Wiley, who said that the statue commemorated those who fought and died in the Civil War.

"I went to school here. Those 56 students joined the Confederacy for whatever reason. That's what the statue is here for," he said.

Much of the controversy stems from confusion over the legality of removing the monument.

Gov. Roy Cooper released a statement Monday, saying that UNC system officials have the authority to take immediate action if they believe the statue is posing a risk to public safety.

A spokesperson for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill released a response on Tuesday, saying the university does not legally have authority to remove the statue from campus unless a building inspector concludes physical disrepair of the statue poses a threat to public safety.

"We continue to believe that removing the Confederate Monument is in the best interest of the safety of our campus, but the university can act only in accordance with the laws of the state of North Carolina," the statement read.

Speech: 1913 Unveiling of Confederate monument at UNC-Chapel Hill

But protesters are still directing pressure on UNC Chancellor Carol Folt.

"I feel like Chancellor Folt, to me, has remained almost as Silent as Silent Sam on the issue," student Tahj Warren said.

In an interview with Education Matters, UNC System President Margaret Spellings touched on some of those issues, including a law passed in 2015.

"That does not give the university the power to remove those monuments and memorials, that is in the hands of the state historical commission and our state legislature," Spellings said.

Demonstrators held signs that read "No Trump, No KKK, No Racist USA" and "Stop pretending racism is patriotism."

"I would like to give the administration the opportunity to stand on the right side of history because I think they deserve that," Warren said. "But I am also prepared if they don't want to make the history happen, that's what I'm here for, that's what we're all here for."

The future of Silent Sam could involve the State Historical Commission. A request has been made to Governor Cooper to consider convening that commission.

13 Comments

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  • William Jones Aug 24, 9:06 a.m.
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    They are attending class and manning the protest in shifts. I like what they are doing and how they are doing it.

  • Robert Swiger Sr. Aug 24, 8:46 a.m.
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    It will as long as you keep reporting

  • Phillip Mozingo Aug 24, 8:30 a.m.
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    After missing a certain amount of time out of class, aren't these students booted?

  • Deborah Turner Aug 24, 5:52 a.m.
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    These kids don't have a clue about how hard life was in 1860. Their society is soft. Our modern way of life is fragile. If these people had to live without electricity for just one month you would see widespread panic. My husband worked in construction and saw it first hand after Hurricane Fran in 1996 in Wake Co. People that lived in million dollar homes were running and flagging him down in the streets because they had no electricity and were in full blown panic mode ( wanted him and his crew to work in their area first ) Monuments are not the problem....people are.

  • Charlie Watkins Aug 24, 5:25 a.m.
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    The Democrats have Silent Sam in their sights and Silent Sam is history!

  • Maureen Mercer Aug 23, 11:13 p.m.
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    Perhaps they should put a statue of an unarmed Northern soldier to show now we fight side by side.

  • Jeffrey Derry Aug 23, 10:26 p.m.
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    Don't they have anything else better to do?

  • William Sherman Aug 23, 7:36 p.m.
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    Excellen posting-- accurate and informative. Problem is that this information, for all its veracity has absolutely no influence or impact on those in this nation. who maintain THEY were the worlds only slaves and therefore they--to the exclusion of all others--are OWED financial support, political impunity to do as they wish without penalty, and freedom to coerce compliance with their demands. It is well past the time when this kind of behavior should end.

  • William Jones Aug 23, 7:15 p.m.
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    There are good reasons for protesting the monuments but many are protesting for the wrong reasons. Everyone involved should do some in depth study. Slavery was the way of the world when it became common here and we were not the last to end it. It continued in the new world for a couple of decades and in the old world legally for almost a century. Some of the history of slavery in this country and of the Civil War would surprise people on both sides of the issue. Many of the people who served the Confederacy, while they couldn't be called abolitionist, were not pro slavery. They were there because they felt more loyalty to their state than to the country, many were good people. The problem with the monuments is they were not put up so much to honor these people as to show support for the Jim Crow era, a time that can not be defended. As to the protesters at UNC, they are making their point peacefully

  • Paula Fullerton Aug 23, 6:36 p.m.
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    Really? Six students sitting NC at the base of the statue instead of going to classes in a continuing controversy?

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