Amid euphoric embraces and shouts, dislodged from its pedestal overlooking UNC’s campus for the first time in 115 years, Confederate monument Silent Sam rested in a growing pile of dirt and spit.
By tearing down the statue on Aug. 20 using ropes concealed by large banners, protesters forced an ultimatum on the University. The night’s aftermath, which included mass protests resulting in police using pepper foggers and other forms of force, made 2018 one of the most eventful times for activism in UNC’s history.
Chancellor Carol Folt and the UNC Board of Trustees announced Monday their proposal for Silent Sam’s new location: a high-security History and Education Center on campus that will house Silent Sam at an initial cost of $5.3 million with an operating cost of $800,000 annually. The announcement sparked backlash, and hundreds of people flooded the streets that night in a protest that led to charges against graduate student activist Maya Little.
One thing is demonstrably clear at the year’s end: divergences between opponents of the statue and UNC leadership are far from settled.
‘A monument to white supremacy’
Opponents of the monument condemn the statue as a celebration of white supremacy.
When speaking at protests this year, Little often referenced the 1970 murder of James Cates, at the time a 22-year-old Black resident of Chapel Hill, by a white supremacist biker gang in the center of UNC’s campus – citing it as an example of racial injustice that has been suppressed by the University while Silent Sam remains. Numerous activists say the University has denied them other avenues to make their voices heard.
Hours before Silent Sam was pulled down, graduate student Jerry Wilson pledged to wear a noose around his neck on-campus at all times until Silent Sam was removed, a visual representation of the discomfort that the statue’s historical context makes him feel as a Black man.
Many historians have agreed with the activists. William Sturkey, a UNC historian who specializes in the history of race in the American South, said in September that the United Daughters of the Confederacy initiated Silent Sam’s construction as one effort in a broader plan that included the glorification of the Ku Klux Klan. He also referenced Julian Carr’s speech at Silent Sam’s unveiling, where Carr bragged about whipping a Black woman repeatedly just a short distance from where the statue stood.