© 2020 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Protesters Knock Down Confederate Statue On UNC Campus

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

For more than a hundred years, a statue of a Confederate soldier nicknamed Silent Sam, stood at the University of North Carolina campus in Chapel Hill - no longer. This week, 300 protesters toppled the monument, which has been viewed as a symbol of racism and white supremacy. Will Michaels of member station WUNC reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Hey, hey. Ho, ho. This racist statue has got to go. Hey, hey. Ho, ho...

WILL MICHAELS, BYLINE: Silent Sam has been the subject of protests and occasional vandalism for decades. In fact, this demonstration started to support UNC graduate student Maya Little. Earlier this year, Little poured red ink and some of her own blood on the statue. She said at the time, she wanted to put the statue in proper context.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MAYA LITTLE: This statue is not just dedicated by racists. It's not just built by racists. It's not just founded upon this idea of white supremacy. It's also founded upon the violence towards black people.

MICHAELS: In 1913, a man named Julian Carr spoke at the monument's dedication. UNC history professor Fitz Brundage says Carr used the speech to lay out the monument's purpose.

FITZ BRUNDAGE: Not only as an obligation for contemporary white North Carolinians to fight for the same things that their forefathers had fought for during the Civil War, but also as a monument to the preservation of white, Anglo-Saxon civilization. He was very explicit about that.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: When black lives are under attack, what do we do?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Stand up, fight back.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: What do we?

MICHAELS: This week, protesters pointed to the statue's past, as much as the history it represents, when they ripped it down.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Yelling) Pull.

(CHEERING)

MICHAELS: Police dragged Silent Sam away afterwards. What happens next to it is unknown. North Carolina law protects these monuments with some exceptions. Brundage, the UNC history professor, says the statue could become a valuable teaching device on the Civil War, student activism and the conversation about what to do with Confederate symbols in public spaces.

BRUNDAGE: There is even more reason to preserve it, but to preserve it as a historical artifact, not as a memorial.

MICHAELS: Leaders in the state Legislature and UNC administrators, including Chancellor Carol Folt, declined interviews, but they released statements condemning the statue takedown. They've asked state police to investigate, and they say they'll hold people accountable for damaging state property. Maya Little, the student who poured her own blood on Silent Sam earlier this year, says she believes every monument in the state will eventually come down.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

LITTLE: Maybe soon, maybe 20 years from now, we don't know. The thing is, though, when Chancellor Folt and others reflect back on that, they're going to say, well, what did we do to support that?

MICHAELS: Meanwhile, the state's Historical Commission will meet later today to consider removing three Confederate statues from the Capitol grounds. There are still nearly a hundred Civil War monuments in North Carolina.

For NPR News, I'm Will Michaels in Chapel Hill. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.