Confederate group disavows racist graffiti at UNC-Chapel Hill as police seek 2 suspects

The leader of a pro-Confederate group has disavowed weekend vandalism at two prominent UNC-Chapel Hill outdoor works of art.

UNC Police say the Unsung Founders’ Memorial on McCorkle Place and an art installation near Hanes Art Center were defaced early Sunday morning. A campus officer discovered the McCorkle Place incident, while a motorist reported the Hanes Art Center incident to another officer, according to a university news release.

Police have taken out warrants against two suspects but not released their names. Campus officials said one of the suspects seen on surveillance footage is affiliated with the group Heirs to the Confederacy.

In a statement to The Herald-Sun late Monday night, K. Lance Spivey, chairman of the Heirs to the Confederacy, said his group would not support the desecration of monuments.

“Neither myself nor the Board of Directors ever has or ever would sanction such an act; it goes against everything we stand for,” Spivey wrote.

“If these acts of vandalism were in fact committed by any member(s) of Heirs, then the perpetrator(s) were acting on their own, in a renegade capacity and unsanctioned by the Board of Directors,” he continued. “I, and Heirs to the Confederacy as a whole, will have no part in the damaging, desecration, or destruction of any historical monument, memorial, or marker, and actually support the protection of all such monuments, be they Confederate or otherwise.”

The Unsung Founders Memorial, a granite and bronze monument dedicated to the people of color who helped build the university campus is near where the controversial Silent Sam Confederate monument once stood.

UNC Police have released few details, saying they are conducting a thorough criminal investigation. They have not released the text of the graffiti, but they have been described it as containing “racist language” by UNC officials.

A protest leader at UNC during the Silent Sam demonstrations says the graffiti messages were aimed at her.

In a Tweet on Sunday, Maya Little said her attorney told her “that something in regards to my name was spraypainted on the monument.

“UNC has not officially contacted me even though I am a PhD student nor told anything else to my lawyer,” she continued. “They didn’t tell him what was written.”

Little was found guilty in October of a misdemeanor charge for smearing blood and ink on Silent Sam last April, but the judge did not hand down a sentence or punishment. Silent Sam was subsequently pulled down by protesters Aug. 20.

Chancellor responds

In response to the most recent vandalism, UNC police have placed barricades around the Unsung Founders Memorial.

Interim UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz sent a message to the university community about the vandalism Sunday night.

“These events challenge not only our most fundamental community values, but also the safety of our campus,” he said in the release. “Lawless behavior will not be tolerated, and those found responsible will be held accountable for their actions.”

His statement said one of the suspects seen on surveillance footage is affiliated with Heirs to the Confederacy.

Spivey said at least two Heirs to the Confederacy members were at UNC Saturday night, but as far as he knows all they did was place Confederate flags around the campus.. At one point, he wrote in his statement, they spoke with campus police officers who he said “were at least a little concerned that their mere presence there might cause them to be in danger of being assaulted by drunken students.”

“Having known of their presence on campus and being concerned for their safety, one would think that the UNC Police would keep them under observation to insure the keeping of the peace; circumstances under which they could not have committed the acts of which the media is accusing them,” Spivey wrote.

Gun on campus

The racist graffiti follows an incident March 16 in which a group of Confederate supporters, Spivey said in a blog post were there for a “flagging event” in support of Silent Sam. The Daily Tar Heel reported that at least one person in the group was seen with a gun as they walked through campus. Spivey wrote that he carried a gun that day. They were told to leave by campus police, which they did, he said.

The university did not name the the individuals, but a UNC spokesperson said they were from Heirs to the Confederacy.

Afterward Guskiewicz sent a message to the university community announcing he was initiating a review of the incident. He also said he was creating a team to assess how campus police respond to emergency situations, and forming a commission on overall campus safety.

“To be clear,” he wrote, “weapons, especially guns and the threat they convey even when holstered, have no place here and will not be tolerated. In the future, those found with a weapon on campus will be arrested and issued a warning of trespass.”

Efforts to reach Spivey and to get more information on the March 16 incident from UNC Police were not successful Tuesday.

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Joe Johnson is a reporter covering breaking stories for The News & Observer. He most recently covered towns in western Wake County and Chatham County. Before that, he covered high school sports for The Herald-Sun.