Maya Little was arrested for painting the Confederate memorial Silent Sam red with paint and her own blood at a protest Monday. She was charged with defacement of a public monument and will have her first court date on May 7. Staff writer Suzanne Blake talked with the second-year doctoral student about the motivation behind her actions.
DTH: Tell me about the history of your involvement protesting Silent Sam.
ML: I have been involved as an organizer for the sit-in since September of 2017 after the 24-hour occupiers had their belongings confiscated and were told to leave by campus police. That includes being at the statue last semester every day to host the sit-in with our signs that provided context about the statue and its history and it being a white supremacist, racist monument.
DTH: Why did you paint the statue red yesterday?
ML: I smeared my blood and red ink on the statue because the statue was lacking proper historical context. This statue, Silent Sam, was built on white supremacy. It was built by white supremacists. It was built by people who believed that Black people were inferior and wanted to intimidate them. So these statues were built on Black blood. These statues symbolize the violence toward Black people. Without that blood on the statue, it’s incomplete, in my opinion. It’s not properly contextualized.
DTH: What were you hoping to accomplish yesterday?
ML: To have Chancellor (Carol) Folt and others to confront the real history of the statue, to confront the context and the history. We’re an academic institution. We have a history department. It’s inappropriate to have a monument on campus that doesn’t show the real history of the time period it’s a part of. Also because Chancellor Folt has not responded to calls to remove the statue since she’s been here. For the first two years that she was here, there was no state law against removing the statue — despite the fact that since 1968 there have been protests against the statue on campus. Not only that, she has not met with anyone in the sit-in. She has done everything in her power actually to keep the statue on campus by appointing an undercover cop to surveil, to intimidate and to gather information on students. I think that Chancellor Folt needs to respond. She needs to take responsibility and ownership. She needs to remove the statue and deal with the issue of white supremacy on this campus.
DTH: Did you anticipate being arrested?
ML: I did. I did not anticipate the, in my eyes, very aggressive response from campus police ... and this is again, when does Chancellor Folt respond? Not when students say, ‘I feel threatened, I feel in danger because of this statute.’ She responds when I put context in the statue. Within a minute after my arrest, they had called someone to power-wash the statue. In the course of that, when protesters stood in front of the statue, after I had put my ink and blood on it, campus police physically and very aggressively removed them from the statue. They also took our signs from our protest, which we’ve had for months and were not a part of my action, and destroyed them. So they destroyed the property of the sit-in. They destroyed signs that were about the context of the sit-in, and a lot of those signs specifically referred to incidents of police violence or police harassment of Black students and protesters.
DTH: What do you anticipate for the future of Silent Sam? Do you think it will be torn down?
ML: People are going to keep contextualizing it. I think that’s something that the chancellor’s office needs to think about, and Chancellor Folt needs to think about it. The duty and the responsibility for removing the statue is on her, on the chancellor. She is the one that needs to remove it. She has the power to remove it. As for protesters, as for students on this campus, we’re going to continue contextualizing and talking about the real history of Silent Sam, the real history of white supremacy at UNC and in Chapel Hill.
DTH: What do you think the impact of yesterday’s protest was?
ML: I think the impact has been to have people confront that real history, to have people think about that. I think for people to think about the fact that not only Silent Sam, but this institution, was built on Black blood, Black labor ... all the buildings in McCorkle Place were built by Black slaves. I think that the History Task Force just did a project on that where they found 300 names of Black slaves who built the campus and records on them. So I hope people think about that.
DTH: What keeps you motivated to keep fighting to take Silent Sam down even after a year (of no action from the University)?
ML: Because it affects me, and it affects a lot of people I know, and it affects my community. It affects Black students, Black faculty members and Black community members on this campus. It continues to affect them: the many ways in which Black people on this campus are abused, the way that Black athletes are exploited for the Tar Heel brand, the way in which our faces are plastered all over the Carolina for All Campaign when the University doesn’t want to remove a statue that is against our very existence as Black people on this campus. The fact that Black students have to eat and live in buildings named after people who made their fortunes by selling Black children. Those things are degrading. They’re humiliating. They’re traumatizing and they’re dangerous to Black students. And that’s what keeps me going. This is my opposition to that.
DTH: What has been the reception to your protest and arrest to you personally?
ML: I’ve had a lot of support from faculty, my friends, colleagues, students, a lot of the Workers’ Union at UNC, the Campus Y, Black Congress, a number of institutions, a lot of faculty. So there has been a lot of support because people have seen that students have been doing this for so long, not only myself and the other organizers of the sit-in. For the last 50 years, students have been protesting the statue, defacing it and telling the administration that it needs to be moved.
DTH: How have they been supporting you?
ML: In terms of support, what is a big thing is that my first court date is on May 7, and we are asking people to show up to that and to signal that they are watching, watching the due process of the law and supporting me in kind of facing charges for civil disobedience.
DTH: What would you say to those who are criticizing what you did yesterday?
ML: I guess, for them, a lot of people say, ‘Well look at the statue, the statue shouldn’t be moved, it’s history.’ Well, as someone who’s a Ph.D. student in history, you can’t call something history without showing the real history of it. The blood of Black people is the real history of that statue. White supremacy was built on violence toward Black people. To have a white supremacist monument sitting on our campus without that context, standing there, kind of sanitized by the University as it was yesterday when they power-washed it, is not history at all. It’s against history. It’s against the study of history.
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