Protestors gather in Chapel Hill after Silent Sam monument decision

By  | 

CHAPEL HILL, NC A couple hundred people gathered on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Monday night to protest the plan by the university Board of Trustees to bring a controversial Confederate monument back to campus.

The Silent Sam statue, in honor of North Carolina's Confederate dead, stood on the campus from its dedication in 1913 until August, when a group decrying its racist history dashed it from a pedestal. Since that time, campus leaders have considered next steps.

On Monday, Chancellor Carol Folt announced a plan to build a $5.3 million "center for history and education" to house the statue on campus.

"It was very clear, public safety alone would make it impossible to return it to its base or any outdoor location on our campus," Folt said. "We developed a plan, most important to me, that I believe could be successfully safe, that I believe could actually be based at its core on education."

That plan brought people to the streets Monday night for a protest, in which a series of speakers, most of them African-American, blasted what they see as a continuing attitude of tolerance for racism on campus, an attitude they say is exemplified by Silent Sam.

"He is a figment of the white imagination that does not represent history, but propaganda," a first-year student said.

Speakers included Maya Little, a graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill, who smeared blood and paint on the statue last spring, an action which saw her found guilty of defacing a public monument.

One speaker called on faculty to withhold grades and students to skip finals to show their solidarity with the movement to eliminate the statue from campus entirely.

Others questioned the wisdom of investing in a new building when student fees are rising and tuition are rising alongside university expenses. Immediately after the announcement, several groups, including Defend UNC, the UNC Black Congress and the UNC Black Student Movement, issued a letter, saying, "They are building a safe space for white supremacy and forcing us to pay for it."

Folt said the new building at Odum Village would allow for a fuller, more honest history of the university.

"This is so important to us that we are going to make it happen," Folt said of funding the new building.

Savannah Putnam, UNC-Chapel Hill's student body president, said she doesn't think the plan meets the needs of students.

"I simply can’t support putting a Confederate monument back on campus," Putnam said.

The UNC Board of Governors is expected to review the Silent Sam proposal at its Dec. 14 meeting. It's unclear whether they would have the final word, or whether the North Carolina Historical Commission would have to sign off as well.

***PREVIOUS STORY***
The leaders of North Carolina's flagship university are proposing a new $5 million building on campus to house a toppled Confederate monument.

The plan presented by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt was scheduled for a vote Monday at a meeting of the campus trustees. The separate Board of Governors that oversees the statewide university system will have final say over the plan. The statewide board meets in December.

Folt proposed a site south of the university's hospital and west of its basketball stadium to build a new history and education center that would house the statue that was torn down by protesters in August. Folt said the new building in the Odum Village area of campus would cost about $5 million.

Folt said the on-campus location meets strict criteria under state law governing Confederate monuments and other objects of remembrance.

The statue of an anonymous soldier is known as "Silent Sam" and was erected on a main campus quad in 1913.