Dear Commons Community,
Protesters last night toppled Silent Sam, the prominent Confederate monument whose presence has divided the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s campus for decades. Video published by The News & Observer, a Raleigh newspaper, showed protesters yanking the eight-foot bronze statue down from its nine-foot-high pedestal, where it had been obscured behind banners that the protesters had raised. After the statue fell, jubilant protesters cheered, chanted, and embraced as the police looked on. The Silent Sam Memorial was dedicated in 1913 to Confederate and student soldiers who served in the Civil War. As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education:
“In a statement the university said that around 9:20 p.m. “a group” of the protesters who had gathered near the statue pulled it down. “Tonight’s actions were dangerous,” the statement said, “and we are very fortunate that no one was injured. We are investigating the vandalism and assessing the full extent of the damage.”
The sudden unseating of the statue — the climax of a large, hours-long protest coinciding with the start of the fall semester — was all the more surprising given how much effort the university had exerted to keep it up. Last year alone the university spent $390,000 to provide security for the monument.
Student activists and others have long called for the removal of Silent Sam, citing its unmistakable endorsement of the Confederacy, but the energy behind the demand intensified after the August 2017 white-supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Va. In the aftermath of those protests, in which one person was killed, activists pulled down a Confederate statue in Durham, N.C., just 10 miles down the road from where Silent Sam stood.
University leaders signaled their personal objections to the statue, but argued that they did not have the authority to remove it because a 2015 state law prohibited the removal of “objects of remembrance” from state-owned land without special permission.
As the university had watched over the statue since the Charlottesville violence, activists sought to keep the pressure on. Maya Little, a graduate student in history at UNC, in April doused the statue with a mix of ink and blood. She was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor count of defacing a public monument, and reportedly faced consequences from UNC’s Honor Court as well. Little was present at the protest on Monday and spoke to the crowd.”