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Chapel Hill removes Confederate road marker, black history marker ahead of planned protests

Silent Sam is gone from UNC-Chapel Hill, but protests are planned for Saturday afternoon where the Confederate statue once stood on campus.

A group called Heirs to the Confederacy said on Facebook it will raise a Confederate flag where the controversial statue perched on its pedestal for more than a century until protesters tore it down in August. The rally is set to begin at noon, and the group said it will raise Confederate flags elsewhere on campus and throughout Chapel Hill.

Two other groups, Take Action Chapel Hill and Defend UNC, created a Facebook event called “Racists out of UNC: Rally, Pledge Drive, Re-contextualization,” also set to begin at noon.

UNC-Chapel Hill issued a statement Friday saying officials know about the dueling protests.

“The University is aware that two groups plan to demonstrate near the previous site of the Confederate Monument on Saturday,” the statement said. “Anytime a group demonstrates at the University, UNC Police works to ensure the safety of everyone and follows best practices for crowd management.”

In anticipation of the protests, the town of Chapel Hill on Friday removed a Jefferson Davis Highway marker and also a new marker honoring an African-American woman. Davis served as president of the Confederacy during the Civil War.

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Protesters rally across across the street from the Jefferson Davis marker on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill last December. The town of Chapel Hill removed the stone marker and plaque on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019. TRAVIS LONG tlong@newsobserver.com

“The presence of both markers has resulted in an ongoing threat to public safety in our downtown as opposing groups — including some from out of town — continue to plan protests and other actions in downtown and on campus,” Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said in a statement. “For this reason, both markers have been removed and will be offered to their rightful owners. “

Orange County commissioners voted in October to repeal a 1959 resolution that named the highway for Davis, but the stone marker remained.

Earlier this month, a marker created by an unnamed artist was placed nearby to honor the woman described by white supremacist Julian Carr as a “Negro wench” he assaulted. Carr made the comment during the dedication of Silent Sam in 1913.

In Hemminger’s statement, town officials clarified that the plaque part of the unnamed artist’s monument already had been removed when crews arrived Friday morning.

Take Action Chapel Hill issued a statement Friday criticizing the town for waiting so long to remove the Davis marker, and then removing it the same day as the marker honoring the African-American woman.

“As anti-racist student activists, we call on the town of Chapel Hill to commission student artists to create and install a new, official, permanent monument to the Negro wench,” the group said. “Public monuments are not neutral. Adding public black history monuments to and removing white supremacist monuments from the landscape is not sufficient to reckon with white supremacy, but it is a powerful and necessary part of the process.”

N.C. Chief Dep. Attorney General Alexander McC. Peters advised Town of Chapel Hill Attorney Ralph D. Karpinos in a letter Thursday that the Davis marker on the south side of Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill is not in the N.C. Department of Transportation right of way.

Peters also wrote that the marker appears to be on town property, not UNC or state property. However, Peters ended the letter with “this is not an official Attorney General opinion.”

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Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan covers North Carolina state government and politics at The News & Observer. She previously covered Durham for 13 years, and has received six North Carolina Press Association awards, including a 2018 award for investigative reporting.
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