Objections to 'Silent Sam' disrupt UNC University Day
Posted October 12, 2015
Chapel Hill, N.C. — An annual celebration of the history of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was shaded by protest Monday.
University Day, Oct. 12, is the celebration of the laying of the cornerstone Old East, the campus' first building, in 1793.
"University Day is such a glossed over version of what the history is," said student June Beshea. "They celebrate 1793, but black people weren't allowed in this university until 1951, and they don't ever recognize that."
In addition to the usual speeches and alumni recognition, the University Day event featured about two dozen students shouting opposition to the "Silent Sam" statue and other campus markers they say are emblematic of a racist past.
"Tear it down, tear it down, or we'll shout you down," students from a group called The Real Silent Sam Coalition chanted, interrupting a speech by Chancellor Carol Folt.
After their stand during the celebration, the students received applause from some faculty.
"Universities are places where our students and community speak with real heart and voice," Folt said. "I'm really glad they felt comfortable to come here and that we were all able to listen their very important message."
The group has asked that "Silent Sam," a monument erected in 1913, be modified to include a plaque on that contextualizes its history. The statue, which depicts a Confederate soldier facing north while holding a rifle in his hands, was dedicated in memory of students who served and died in the Civil War.
The coalition says "the monument is falsely represented" as honoring students, was erected "at the height of North Carolina’s white supremacy movement to incite fear in the newly freed black population" and makes many students feel unwelcome on campus.
Silent Sam has been vandalized twice this year, including having "KKK" and "Murderer" spray-painted on its base.
Before chanting in Memorial Hall, the students marched across campus, stopping at the Old Well. They also hung a skirt from the statue's musket, a reference to the unveiling 102 years ago when a speaker told the crowd that he had whipped a black woman until her skirt was shredded.
University crews removed the skirt from the statue shortly after the students left.
Coalition members said they know that any change could be years in coming, but they are determined to continue to make their voices heard.
"This was just to get the university to recognize that we're here, but after that, it's going to be a long process, I'm sure," Beshea said.
Another call for change by students saw a building renamed this year. Saunders Hall was renamed Carolina Hall after university administrators agreed that it was improper to have a building named for William Saunders, a leader of the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina.