The day before classes began at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the state’s flagship public university, a crowd led by students of color and anarchists tore down the Confederate statue, “Silent Sam,” which has dominated downtown Chapel Hill for over a century. You can read about the events in the campus paper and a variety of corporate news sources, some of which are remarkably supportive of this use of illegal direct action. The following is a report by participants, including a strategic analysis.
A Little Background
Silent Sam has been a flashpoint for anti-racist struggle for at least fifty years. It was donated to the university and erected in 1913 during the Jim Crow era by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Capitalist, racist, and KKK-supporter Julian Carr, for whom the neighboring town of Carrboro is named, boasted during a speech at the statue’s dedication that he had, just yards away from the monument and under the gaze of Federal soldiers, “horse-whipped a negro wench, until her skirts hung in shreds” because she had insulted a white woman. Protesters threw paint on the statue when Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered in 1968; demonstrators gathered around it to remember two black men, James Cates, who was murdered on UNC’s campus by a white motorcycle gang, and William Murphy, who was murdered by a NC highway patrolman, in 1971. A crowd marched on the statue when the police officers who beat Rodney King were declared innocent in 1992.
The latest cycle of protest began the day after the bloody clashes of August 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia, when two hundred people gathered around the statue to hear anti-fascists returning from Charlottesville describe their experiences. Activists defied police orders and climbed the statue in order to shroud it in black fabric. The following day, demonstrators in neighboring Durham, North Carolina toppled the Confederate monument in their downtown in broad daylight—a feat for which no one was ultimately convicted.