Last Tuesday, student activists erected a memorial for James Cates in The Pit, the same exact spot where he, a Black student, was stabbed and murdered by a white supremacist biker gang in 1970.
The memorial didn’t even stand for one full day. UNC removed it in the dead of night, the late hours nothing new for the University. (Just this academic year, both Silent Sam and later its pedestal were moved off campus after midnight.) A few days later, someone stole a second student memorial dedicated to the Black woman Julian Carr described whipping in his 1913 Silent Sam dedication speech. It was replaced to its original spot on Wednesday, after the Town of Chapel Hill recovered it.
If we’re being honest, the student activists should never have had to put these monuments up. They should have been erected by the University, with as much of the grandeur and prominence given to Silent Sam. The fact is, history is continuous, and monuments should follow. James Cates, who was brutally murdered in the middle of our campus not even 50 years ago, and the Black woman whose oppressor stood tall at the forefront of the University for over a century, are as relevant to our history as our rivalry with Duke. Ignoring this tainted past is a gross disservice to students of color at this University, and to the progression of the University as a whole.
But, of course, the University’s inaction forced student activists to take matters into their own hands. And this is not the first time their efforts have been suppressed.
As recent incidents remind us, UNC has a well-documented history of censorship. In the last few years alone, the University has taken a number of actions to silence student voices. Following the events in Charlottesville in August 2017, UNC removed a total of not one, not two, but 12 anti-racist student banners from the facade of the Campus Y. That same semester, banners installed at Peabody Hall to protest racism in education were also removed. Through all the destruction and removal, though, Silent Sam stood tall. Our freedom of expression on this campus is limited to the expression of a specific point-of-view, masked by a false image of open mindedness and progressive ideals.