CHARLOTTE — When Harrison Barnes visited Chapel Hill late in the summer, a few months before he began his seventh NBA season, he described his former campus as “crazy.”
It had been around a week since Aug. 20, when protesters pulled down UNC’s Silent Sam statue the night before classes began. Barnes saw a heavy police presence in McCorkle Place and multiple demonstrations — some for returning the statue to its original pedestal, others for its permanent removal.
“There were all types of different groups that were out there,” he told the Daily Tar Heel in an exclusive interview, after his Dallas Mavericks beat the Charlotte Hornets, 122-84. “I think it kind of started a conversation, just among some athletes, about how students felt and how faculty felt.”
So when a petition began circulating among North Carolina athletes in mid-December, speaking out against Chancellor Carol Folt and the UNC Board of Trustees’ proposal to house the statue in a new "University History and Education Center" on campus, Barnes didn’t hesitate to add his name.
“I personally felt it was best if all the leaders were the people who are currently there now,” said Barnes, who played for UNC from 2010 to 2012. “You know, as a former athlete, you have your opinions. But the people who are there on the ground, they know more. So when the petition started circulating, I read it, and I felt that it spoke for the values I believed.”
On Wednesday night in the Spectrum Center, Barnes wasn’t the only former Tar Heel to make his stance on the statue clear. The Hornets’ Marvin Williams, who won a national title with UNC in 2005, also added his name to a petition, days before the UNC-system Board of Governors rejected Folt and the BOT’s proposal on Dec. 14.
“I just feel like today, in 2019, we’re past that,” Williams, a 14-year veteran, told the DTH in an exclusive interview. “Obviously, it’s a part of history. Not all your history is always good history. I just don’t feel like it should be on campus anymore.”
As of Thursday, Barnes and Williams are two of roughly 300 current and former North Carolina athletes who have signed petitions opposing Silent Sam’s return to campus in any form. The first letter, written by former UNC fencer Ezra Baeli-Wang, has been converted into an accessible Google Form, where more athletes can add their names to a growing list.