Despite the rain, cold and mud, members of a pro-Confederate group and counter-protesters turned up at UNC for clashing demonstrations on Saturday.
At around noon, about a dozen pro-Confederate demonstrators entered McCorkle Place and amassed in front of Graham Memorial Hall, adorned with Confederate flags. Shortly afterward, demonstrator David Freeman walked in front of the pro-Confederate demonstrators, holding an N.C. LGBTQ+ pride flag.
“I’m proud of my heritage since the Civil War,” Freeman said. “I am not proud of what my family did during the Civil War. Even my great-grandfather, who fought in the Civil War, afterward, realized his mistake. He raised his 15 sons to be good American citizens, North Carolinians and South Carolinians. They did a good job raising the generation after that. We’ve got four generations of progressives, North Carolina progressives, and I’m proud of all of the progressives of North Carolina.”
More counter-protesters began to join the demonstration, including Gina Balamucki, a UNC law student who served as Maya Little's defense attorney in her Honor Court trial and appeal. She read tweets from @sams_reckoning, an anti-Silent Sam Twitter account which investigates the background of the UNC Confederate dead memorialized by Silent Sam.
Balamucki prefaced her reading by talking about the pro-Confederate protesters, condemning the group as racist.
“The people behind me will say that Silent Sam honored poor Confederate soldiers,” Balamucki said to the gathered crowd. “They’ll say it’s not about slavery; it’s about heritage. But the fact is, this amazing Twitter account, run by a historian, is clear that so far almost all the people this historian looked at — almost a hundred — were all slave owners or from slave-owning families. These people were not poor. They were not from the rural South; they were people from North Carolina’s most elite, wealthy families, and they were slaveholders, and they were upholding the Confederacy.”
The counter-protesters — a group made up of people supporting various causes, like Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ rights — met the pro-Confederate group with banners, posters and chants, yelling, “F*** the Confederacy,” “Anti-racists run this town” and “Go home, racists." The pro-Confederates retaliated with cries of, “All lives matter,” and “Long live the Confederacy,” at times playing music to drown the counter-protesters.
Around 12:30 p.m., the rally began to move, first turning toward Memorial Hall on Cameron Avenue, then Person Hall, where the pro-Confederate protesters stopped to briefly gather around the Memorial to the Founding Trustees, a marble obelisk which lists the names of the original trustees of the University. Finally, the procession, dotted with flags and posters and closely followed by members of the police, turned east, moving down Franklin Street.
A few confrontations erupted between the pro-Confederates and the counter-protesters as the group moved down Franklin, then back up to McCorkle Place. However, these were quickly subdued by other protesters or the police. No arrests were made on the part of UNC police, according to Randy Young, Media Relations manager for UNC Public Safety.
The pro-Confederates then walked back to their cars amidst chanting by some of the counter-protesters, who told them to “go home.” A large group of counter-protesters remained on McCorkle Place long after many of the pro-Confederates had left, targeting their chants towards the remaining individuals.
Some protesters, like Freeman, attended the rally to stand against Nazism and racism.
“From my experience in Charlottesville, it’s become clear that when racists and Nazis and the KKK show up, if we don’t show up in greater numbers than them, it emboldens them,” Freeman said. “People like me, who had thought they’d never see Nazis marching in the streets with guns, it opened our eyes and we’ve been showing up whenever the Nazis show up, whenever the KKK shows up, and whenever our numbers are bigger than theirs, they tend to not show up.”
However, some of those who marched on the pro-Confederate side, like Rob Butler, said that they were there in support of Southern heritage.
“That statue, which this is all about, to me, that statue is a memorial to the war dead, nothing more,” Butler said. “It’s not racist. If anything on this campus is racist, it has to be that Old Well, because Black people did not get to drink from the same water source as white people.”
Butler said that he agreed with the counter-protesters' message of anti-white supremacy, but disliked their methods and language, which included shouting expletives.
Calvin Deutschbein, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the computer science department, said that he and other counter-protesters attended the demonstration as part of an attempt to “re-contextualize” the campus’ history with race and “tell a more honest history on campus than what’s being told by the buildings and the monuments.”
“When we look around UNC, we see a lot of buildings, monuments and so on honoring violent white men, usually landowners, slave owners, and that doesn’t represent my view on authentic history,” Deutschbein said.
Deutschbein said he hopes that these protests will discourage the pro-Confederate groups from demonstrating at the University.
“They are drawn here by this institution’s support for white supremacy, for its white supremacist institutions, which is what we’re trying to re-contextualize,” Deutschbein said. “I hope the Confederate groups stop coming back. I think they endanger our campus and especially students of color and community members of color in Chapel Hill.”
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