University Of North Carolina Protesters Knock Over 1913 Pro-Confederate ‘Silent Sam’ Statue


On Monday evening, students at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill toppled “Silent Sam,” a 1913 statue placed on campus in memoriam of the 300 alumni who served in the Confederate Army. A group formed at 7:00 p.m. to protest the statue and stand up in favor of Maya Little, a student who allegedly dumped red paint and blood on the base of the statue in April. Little stated, “It’s time to build monuments to honor those who have been murdered by white supremacy. It’s time to tear down Silent Sam. It’s time to tear down UNC’s institutional white supremacy.”

Around 9:20, according to the university, “a group from among an estimated crowd of 250 protesters brought down the Confederate Monument on the campus of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 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.” Police arrested only one student for resisting arrest and concealing his or her face (the sex of the suspect has not been released).

Governor Roy Cooper’s (D-NC) office stated, “The Governor understands that many people are frustrated by the pace of change and he shares their frustration, but violent destruction of public property has no place in our communities.”

The statue’s history is truly disturbing. Julian Carr, a local KKK member who helped dedicate the statue, said at the time:

There are no words that I have been able to find in the vocabulary of the English language that adequately express my feelings in this presence on this occasion… But you know and I know, that though I might speak with the tongue of men and of angels, neither song nor story could fittingly honor this glorious event. … One hundred yards from where we stand, less than ninety days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady, and then rushed for protection to these University buildings where was stationed a garrison of 100 Federal soldiers. I performed the pleasing duty in the immediate presence of the entire garrison, and for thirty nights afterwards slept with a double-barrel shot gun under my head.

This history is vital. And that’s part of the problem with removing monuments like this: it tears away our history, both evil and good. As Condoleezza Rice correctly explained:

I am a firm believer in “keep your history before you” and so I don’t actually want to rename things that were named for slave owners … I want us to have to look at those names and recognize what they did and to be able to tell our kids what they did and for them to have a sense of their own history. When you start wiping out your history, sanitizing your history to make you feel better it’s a bad thing.

UNC isn’t represented by Julian Carr, and any suggestion to the contrary is deeply intellectually dishonest. When Julian Carr spoke, the authorities protected the criminality of groups like the KKK; when UNC students tore down that statue 105 years later, the authorities protected them. That’s a complete reversal — and in terms of opposing white supremacy, a great one, of course.

But it isn’t good that people are destroying public property in a democracy, without the law applying. When protesters tore down statues of Stalin in the former Soviet Union or Saddam Hussein in Iraq, they did so because there was no legal regime from which to seek redress. That simply isn’t true in the United States. There’s a case to be made for removing statues from public property by legislative act, but there’s no case to be made for vandalism, which undermines the principle of actual democratic change. Mobs are not what democracy looks like.

Furthermore, this particular mob wasn’t especially tolerant, at least in the words of one UNC student who wrote to me about the situation:

I am a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. … Tonight, students tore down a confederate statue on campus that is known as Silent Sam. “Peaceful protesters” acted just like their name suggests and destroyed this piece of history, chanting “black power” and “go away cops” when police arrived on the scene. I walked by to see what I figured was going to be national news and that was probably not the smartest thing for me to do. Almost immediately, they started coming at me, yelling “get out of here whitey,” which I found ironic as they were holding a sign that said “from Durham to Charlottesville to the White House, tear down racism.” Needless to say I ran back to my dorm pretty darn fast.