Jane Stancill, News&Observer, August 20, 2018
Protesters toppled the Silent Sam Confederate statue on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill on Monday night.
The monument was ripped down after 9:15 p.m. Earlier in the evening, protesters covered the statue with tall, gray banners, erecting “an alternative monument” that said, in part, “For a world without white supremacy.”
Protesters were apparently working behind the covering with ropes to bring the statue down, which happened more than two hours into a rally. It fell with a loud clanging sound, and the crowd erupted in cheers.
After Silent Sam tumbled to the ground, people darted in and out of the crowd through a haze from smoke bombs. Atop the statue someone placed a black cap that said, “Do It Like Durham,” an apparent reference to the toppling of a Confederate statue there a year ago.
People rushed to the remains, taking photos and stomping on the monument that had been erected in 1913 with donations from the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The statue has been the focus of protests and vandalism for decades, but especially in the past year. UNC had installed surveillance cameras and spent $390,000 on security around the statue last year.
Andrew Skinner, 23, who graduated from UNC earlier this year, said he was glad the statue fell in an illegal act.
“It shows that we have the power to be on the right side of history,” Skinner said. “We are part of a long tradition of civil rights in this country…. We as a country have a lot of change and a lot of healing to do, and we are not going to get there putting racism on a pedestal.”
Monday’s gathering started as a demonstration in support of a UNC graduate student who faces criminal and honor court charges for throwing red ink and blood on the Confederate statue in April. The downtown Franklin Street event quickly morphed into a march to the UNC campus, where police officers stood at the monument.
A skirmish broke out early when someone threw a smoke bomb. Police chased one man and arrested another for resisting, delaying and obstructing an officer.
The protesters quickly took control of the area immediately around the statue, hoisting four tall banners in a square that almost completely obscured it. The head of the Confederate soldier occasionally poked out from the top of the banners.
Several bystanders wearing Confederate flags on T-shirts watched the protest. Clint Procell, 31, wore a Trump hat. A self-described conservative, Procell said he wanted to see for himself how intolerant the people protesting Silent Sam were, and the experience didn’t disappoint. He said he was pushed and his hat was temporarily stolen.
UNC released a statement Monday night.
“Around 9:20 p.m., a group from among an estimated crowd of 250 protesters brought down the Confederate Monument on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,” the statement said. “Tonight’s actions were dangerous, and we are very fortunate that no one was injured. We are investigating the vandalism and assessing the full extent of the damage.”
A statement from Chancellor Carol Folt, issued early Tuesday called the actions “unlawful and dangerous” after acknowledging, “The monument 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.”
The question by late Monday was what will happen now that the statue has been torn off its base. It was face down in the mud as a late night thunderstorm passed through town. Police cordoned off the area around the statue with yellow crime scene tape. Eventually, the statue was loaded into a truck.
The rally had started peacefully with the singing of the black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
Maya Little, the doctoral history student who had doused the statue with ink and her own blood in April, appeared and protesters chanted her name. She took the microphone and spoke of an African-American man, James Lewis Cates, who was stabbed by a white motorcycle gang on the UNC campus in the early 1970s.
“It’s time to build monuments to honor those who have been murdered by white supremacy,” Little said, adding, “It’s time to tear down Silent Sam. It’s time to tear down UNC’s institutional white supremacy.”
After the initial skirmish, town and university police officers took a hands off approach, standing a short distance away, keeping a watchful eye on the protest. After about two hours, many of the marchers headed to Franklin Street, followed by some of the officers. A core group of protesters stayed with the statue.
A short time later, Silent Sam was pulled down, sending people screaming and jumping in disbelief. Smoke bombs were set off around what was left of the monument.
Police stood guard over the pedestal and the fallen statue, while people in the crowd hugged and raised their cell phones to capture the moment.