CHAPEL HILL — Protesters toppled the Silent Sam Confederate statue on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill on Monday night.
The monument came down after 9:15 p.m. Monday. Earlier in the evening, protesters covered the statue with gray banners, erecting “an alternative monument” that said, in part, “For a world without white supremacy.”
The gathering downtown on Franklin Street started as a demonstration in solidarity with the UNC graduate student who faces criminal and honor court charges for throwing red ink and blood on the Confederate statue in April. It quickly became a march across the street to the UNC campus, where police officers stood at the monument.
A skirmish broke out when someone threw a smoke bomb into the crowd. Police chased one protester and arrested another for resisting, delaying and obstructing an officer. The unidentified man who was arrested may also face another charge of wearing a mask to a rally, a UNC police spokesman said.
The crowd quickly took control of the area immediately around the statue, hoisting four tall banners in a square that almost completely covered it. The head of the Confederate soldier occasionally poked out from the top of the banners.
Police formed a perimeter around protesters. One banner said, “The whole world is watching. Which side are you on?” Some of the demonstrators wore Carolina blue bandannas over their faces that said, “Sam must fall.”
Several bystanders wearing Confederate flags on T-shirts watched the protest.
The event, which began outside the downtown post office in Chapel Hill, unfolded as students begin a new semester at UNC, almost a year after a massive protest against Silent Sam in the aftermath of violence in Charlottesville. Protesters have vowed to sustain the pressure on the university to relocate the Confederate monument, but campus and UNC system officials insist state law prevents them from doing so.
The rally started with the singing of the black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
Maya Little, the doctoral history student who doused the statue with ink and her own blood in April, now faces a criminal charge of defacing a public statue and an honor court violation at the university. At the rally, protesters chanted her name. She took the microphone and spoke of a black man, James Lewis Cates, who was stabbed by a white motorcycle gang on the UNC campus in the early 1970s.
“It’s time to build monuments to honor those who have been murdered by white supremacy,” Little said, adding, “It’s time to tear down Silent Sam. It’s time to tear down UNC’s institutional white supremacy.”
Little’s action in April, which she has said symbolized the “black blood” at the statue’s foundation, has become a rallying cry of those who oppose the Confederate monument on the UNC campus.
Another graduate student, Jerry Wilson, said being a black man on UNC’s can be a lonely experience. He read what he said was a letter he had written to UNC Chancellor Carol Folt.
“When you have to take the long way between classes in order to avoid the sight of a statue that denies your human dignity, the Southern Part of Heaven can feel an awful lot like hell,” said Wilson, who studies education.
He said the university had bowed to the wishes of donors and well-heeled leaders who want to see the statue stay at UNC.
Wilson placed a rope, fashioned as a noose, around his neck and vowed to wear it until Silent Sam is removed. He said the rope would symbolize what he said is a hostile environment created by the statue.
After the initial skirmish, town and university police officers stood a short distance away, watching the protest. After about two hours, the marchers headed to Franklin Street followed by many of the police.
A short time later, the statue came down with a huge clanging sound. The crowd erupted in cheers and smoke bombs were set off.
Police stood guard over the pedestal and fallen statue, while people in the crowd hugged and raised their cell phones to capture the moment. Rain began to fall, and thunder rolled in.
In the distance, car horns sounded on Franklin Street, but this time the commotion wasn’t about a basketball championship.
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