Protesters interrupt UNC chancellor, call for Confederate soldier statue removal

Protesters interrupted an event Monday at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill to call for the removal of a statue on campus depicting a Confederate soldier.

Chancellor Carol Folt was delivering a speech at the University Day celebration when the protesters entered and began chanting “Tear it down, or we’ll shout you down.”

The protesters also visited the statue in question, where in a video uploaded to the event’s Facebook page, they are heard chanting “F—k your flags and rebel yells, silence Sam, go to hell."

Organizers called the event the “Rally to Silence Sam,” a play off “Silent Sam,” the statue’s nickname. The statue, which was dedicated in 1913, honors students who fought for the Confederacy as well as the 321 alumni killed on both sides.

The students held the protest on University Day, an annual celebration commemorating the university’s 1793 groundbreaking, to make the point that the statue represents a history of racism at UNC.

Shelby Dawkins-Law, a third-year Ph.D. student, told the Daily Tar Heel, “The point of this rally is to throw it in people’s faces on the day that we celebrate this University, that this University has lots of s—t that doesn’t need to be celebrated.”

A campus group called “The Real Silent Sam Coalition” was behind the protest. The group’s Facebook page says its mission is “to create honest public dialogue and provoke critical thought surrounding the monuments and buildings in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.”

The coalition argues that the statue’s stated purpose of honoring alumni who fought in the Civil War is a false narrative. Rather, the group argues that the monument was constructed during a time of white supremacy to make African Americans feel unsafe and unwelcome on campus.

Protesters point to the memorial’s dedication ceremony as evidence. One of the speakers gave an anecdote in which he beat a freed black woman until her skirt was shredded. Protesters brought attention to the event by visiting the statue and lifting a black skirt onto the statue’s rifle.

The statue has generated significant interest in the past year due to its controversial background. In July, Campus Reform reported that vandals spraypainted phrases including “Black Lives Matter,” “KKK,” “Murderer,” and “Tear it Down” on the statue. Since then, the statue has been vandalized once and blindfolded at least twice. The university has since set up two surveillance cameras to monitor the statue at all times.

In 2005, the university erected an “Unsung Founders Memorial” nearby to commemorate the slaves who built the university. The statue’s critics want a bigger commitment from the university in addressing the statue’s history.

Chancellor Folt applauded the protest as part of a valuable dialogue.

Following the protest, Folt said, “Universities are places where our students and our community speak with real heart and voice, and I am really glad that they felt comfortable to come here and that we were all able to listen and hear their important message.”

There are no current plans to remove the statue or to add a plaque to “contextualize” it.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @JMietus