For more than 100 years, “Silent Sam,” a bronze statue representing a Confederate soldier, stood vigil on the campus of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
On Monday night, his watch ended, as student protesters tore the statue off its pedestal.
As the Charlotte Observer reports, a protest held on the UNC campus Monday night featured two groups of demonstrators: one crowd that marched away from the statue, and another, smaller group that surrounded “Silent Sam” with banners held up by bamboo poles. Those banners provided cover as ropes or cables were tied around the statue.
Witnesses told the campus newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, that once demonstrators pulled on the ropes, the statue came down in seconds. Protesters celebrated over the fallen monument, whose face was covered in dirt, before “Silent Sam” was covered in tarp and taken away.
Earlier that day, protesters had marched in solidarity with graduate student Maya Little, who was arrested after defacing Silent Sam in April. Little covered the Confederate statue, erected in 1913, with blood and red paint.
From the Atlantic:
Referring to suggestions that the school help mitigate the damage of Silent Sam by adding historical context, Little said she was adding her own context. “Silent Sam is violence; Silent Sam is the genocide of black people; Silent Sam is antithetical to our right to exist,” Little wrote in a letter to Folt. “You should see him the way that we do, at the forefront of our campus covered in our blood.”
On Tuesday, UNC’s chancellor, Carol L. Folt, released a statement about the incident which was shared on the university’s Twitter account. While Folt acknowledged Silent Sam was “divisive” and “a source of frustration for many” in the UNC community, she wrote that “last night’s actions were unlawful and dangerous, and we are very fortunate that no one was injured.”
“Police are investigating the vandalism and assessing the full extent of the damage,” Folt added.
The toppled statue recalls the tearing down of another Confederate monument in nearby Durham, N.C., nearly a year ago. North Carolina State law prevents the removal of historic monuments—a law passed in 2015 by a GOP-led General Assembly, the Atlantic notes, in all likelihood to prevent local institutions and governments from removing Confederate statues. In fact, before Silent Sam fell, UNC had paid nearly $400,00 to install surveillance cameras and increased police presence to protect the Confederate monument, according to the Raleigh News and Observer.
In the Durham case, all the charges against protesters who took down the Confederate monument were dropped earlier this year.
For now, an empty pedestal remains, with “its bronze reliefs of an angel encouraging students to abandon their studies and fight for the South,” writes the Charlotte Observer.
What will happen to Silent Sam remains to be seen. As the Atlantic notes, while the law prevents people from removing North Carolina’s Confederate monuments, there is no mandate for replacing statues that have been taken down.