On the night before the first day of classes, students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill held a protest to call for the removal of "Silent Sam," the University's Confederate monument sitting on the north side of campus. By the end of the night, the monument was toppled to the ground.
As a person raised by a black woman who grew up in the civil rights movement and a long-time advocate for racial justice and ending white silence around it, I was well aware of UNC's racist history and present upon arriving to campus this August for my first year. Naturally, I made plans to attend the "Not One Left Standing" protest in solidarity with Maya Little, a UNC student who faces criminal charges for covering Silent Sam with her own blood in protest, within my first few days on campus. What I didn't know was that I would experience not only Tar Heel but American history before even stepping foot in my first class.
Before the protest surrounding the statue, Maya Little spoke at a brief rally across the street at the Peace and Justice Plaza. Little told the crowd the story of James Lewis Cates, a black man who was killed by white supremacists in the middle of UNC's campus in 1970. In 1971, protesters gathered in a similar fashion around the Confederate monument to call for the replacement of Silent Sam with a memorial for Cates. Almost half a century later, Maya Little spoke to mobilize the crowd to call for the same thing.
Silent Sam, like most other Confederate monuments, was erected in the Jim Crow Era as a way to disenfranchise and alienate black people. In fact, in his 1913 dedication speech, Julian Carr exclaimed, "One hundred yards from where we stand, I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds because she had maligned and insulted a Southern lady, and then rushed for protection to these university buildings where was stationed a garrison of 100 Federal soldiers. I performed the pleasing duty in the immediate presence of the entire garrison."
For over a century, Silent Sam's presence on campus has served as a constant reminder to black students that the University values those who enslaved their ancestors over its present students' well being. But not anymore.
Statues come down, you just have to pull. And that's what protesters did until Silent Sam's face was in the dirt, where it belongs.
UNC issued a statement shortly after the monument came down stating "Tonight's actions were dangerous..." However, a school that prides itself on "light and liberty" still fails to see how upholding white supremacy on campus is dangerous to their black and brown students.
So what happens now? Realistically, the University will probably rebuild the statue and tack on more money to the $393,000 they have already spent in maintaining the statue just in this past year. But ideally, UNC will put their students before their donors for once and memorialize black lives on campus.
But if they don't, there's no doubt that Silent Sam will continue to fall, because "There ain't no power like the power of the people 'cause the power of the people don't stop."
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