The plaque commemorating the woman referenced in Julian Carr's 1913 Silent Sam dedication speech that was removed last Friday evening was put back in its original location on Franklin Street on Wednesday.
“When the opportunity rose for a few of community members to reinstall the monument, we leapt at the opportunity because we understand its importance and the broader importance of placing these monuments,” Calvin Deutschbein, a UNC graduate student and one of the original placers of the plaque, said in an email.
The Orange County 911 Communications Division received a call on Friday reporting the memorial plaque on Franklin Street was being removed after being installed earlier that same week.
“The caller gave a description of the vehicle that was in the process of removing that plaque, and that vehicle was stopped by an Orange County Sheriff’s deputy on Friday evening,” said Ran Northam, community safety communications specialist for the Town of Chapel Hill.
After the driver was stopped and questioned, the plaque was removed from the vehicle. It was returned to the Chapel Hill Police Department who began searching for the owner.
“As far as it being put back, we don't understand it to be that the plaque was put there in official capacity, so in that case, it would just need to be returned to the owner that we understand,” Northam said.
Once the plaque was in police possession, Northam said the Town could not reinstate the plaque since it was not originally erected in an official manner. Because the owner was unknown to the Town, the person who removed the plaque was not charged, according to Northam.
Deutschbein said he was upset but not surprised by the removal of the plaque.
“It was never the expectation that the struggle to upend systems of violence and oppression would be easy,” he said.
Billy Sessions of the group Confederate 901 released a video after the plaque's removal, saying that it was in possession of the Confederates.
“It was Confederates who went and took it. People who supported Silent Sam,” Sessions said in the video.
Sessions said he received this information via a phone call he received after the plaque was removed. He said a few people planned to go and remove the plaque who were not affiliated with a particular organization.
He said he personally does not have a problem with the plaque, only that it was put up unlawfully.
Northam said the Town is unsure about the legality of the placement or removal of historical plaques and markers, as well as who has the authority to remove them. This is in part due to uncertainty over 2015 North Carolina legislation protecting historical monuments.
Attorney for the Town of Chapel Hill, Ralph Karpinos, wrote to N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein in January 2019 to see who had the authority to remove the Jefferson Davis memorial highway marker on Franklin Street.
“We are waiting on a ruling from the attorney general to see what really this all means, and it started with the Jefferson Davis plaque, but this has the same feeling to it,” Northam said.
Deutschbein said he interprets the historical monument laws to mean if the plaque is on state property, it can't be removed.
“Nevertheless, in the continuing tradition of resistance to white supremacy, we understand this law intended to uphold a system of racial violence to contain a critical weakness, which is that any monument placed on state property cannot be removed regardless of who places it there,” he said.
He said he thinks plaques such as the one on Franklin Street and the James Cates memorial marker are important to the community so it can evaluate its past, and he said he thinks they will remain in place through future generations.
“I believe, as these and other art pieces spring up around our community, we are producing a better world for ourselves and for future generations in which the continuing tradition of resistance to oppression can be remembered, celebrated, participated in and ultimately succeed,” Deutschbein said.
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