Protesters topple Confederate statue on North Carolina campus

Tearing down of Silent Sam reignites debate about future of Civil War commemorations

August 22, 2018
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Protesters have toppled a statue of a Confederate soldier on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, refiring the debate about Civil War monuments on US campuses.

Silent Sam, an eight-foot bronze statue that was erected in 1913, was pulled down by a crowd on 20 August, after years of demonstrations against white supremacy.

While university leaders had indicated their personal discomfort about the statue, the institution had argued that it could not remove the monument because of a 2015 state law prohibiting the removal of “objects of remembrance” from state-owned land without special permission, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported.

After Silent Sam was vandalised in 2015, UNC stepped up its efforts to protect the statue, spending $390,000 (£302,000) on security last year alone.

In a statement, Carol Folt, UNC’s chancellor, said that the statue had “been divisive for years, and its presence has been a source of frustration for many people, not only on our campus but throughout the community”.

“However,” she added, “[these] actions were unlawful and dangerous, and we are very fortunate that no one was injured. The police are investigating the vandalism and assessing the full extent of the damage.”

In a later update, UNC claimed that the rally that led to Silent Sam’s toppling “was carried out in a highly organised manner and included a number of people unaffiliated with the university”.

“While we respect that protesters have the right to demonstrate, they do not have the right to damage state property…we will use the full breadth of state and university processes to hold those responsible accountable for their actions,” the statement said, adding: “We will never condone mob actions.”

Debate over the future of Confederate monuments on campuses has intensified after far-right protests at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, against plans to remove a monument in the city, led to the killing of peaceful counter-protester Heather Heyer.

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