In past protests, Confederate supporters gathered to demonstrate on the opposite side of Franklin Street, by the former site of Silent Sam.
"Last year in Chapel Hill, there were a few rallies where I thought the racists would never go away,” Ayling said. “They seemed to come back every week. But every week, we came out in force and shut them down … And now, I don't even know whether the racists are going to show up today in downtown Chapel Hill.”
Tamia Sanders, a senior and co-chairperson of UNC Black Congress, said there was confusion about whether or not Confederate supporters would show, and talks of them hosting a “secret rally” where they wouldn’t be visible to counter-protesters.
“There was a lot of confusion about that. I heard they're switching it up kind of intentionally,” Sanders said.
Sanders said it’s an important time to come together as a community — it’s been about a year since two adults vandalized the Unsung Founders Memorial, and since a dedication plaque to the Black woman mentioned in Julian Carr’s Silent Sam dedication speech was stolen from Franklin Street.
“It's kind of a full circle time right now,” Sanders said. “It's about showing up as a community and showing what's really stronger than hate.”
Almost one month ago, Judge Allen Baddour voided a settlement between the UNC System Board of Governors and the North Carolina Division Sons of Confederate Veterans Inc., that handed over possession of the monument and provided the group with a $2.5 million trust for its preservation.
Since then, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz has made it clear he does not want the monument to return to campus — and the exact fate of Silent Sam is still undetermined.
But graduate student Calvin Deutschbein said Silent Sam was only a symbol of a broader cause that demonstrators are still advocating for.
“No one thought by tearing down the statue we would change the world, but it was an important struggle to win, and it was an important thing to build community around,” Deutschbein said. “So I think it's very similar — there's different tactics, but the goal is always to build a post- or anti-oppressive community.”
Retired Carrboro police officer Robert Murdaugh was the only counter-protester to show up to the demonstration. He sipped his coffee silently as demonstrators crowded around him.
“Racist go home! Racist go home!” demonstrators shouted at him.
Murdaugh said he doesn’t consider himself a racist, and doesn’t want to associate himself with any particular group.
“I'm trying to figure out what motivates them,” Murdaugh said. “Although I probably have more in common with one side than the other, necessarily.”
He said he doesn’t identify with the demonstrators at Saturday’s protest, and that he believes many of them are “communists, socialists, anarchists and vandals.”
Murdaugh said he was present the night Silent Sam was toppled — close enough to touch the fallen statue — and he demonstrated in support of the Confederate monument in Pittsboro.
“I think it's history,” he said. “And if we remove history, we forget it. And if we forget history, we don't learn anything from it at all.
Demonstrators have been gathering to protest issues related to Silent Sam and what they see as lasting forms of racism and oppression on campus since the the monument was toppled in August 2018.
Sanders said she doesn’t see it dying down any time soon.
“I think the important part is the message has always been consistent and the same,” Sanders said. “And has gotten stronger over time, actually.”