Orange County

UNC football fans make a point of seeing ‘Silent Sam’ — in case he’s gone before they return

Silent Sam was visited by numerous UNC football fans after the game on Saturday.
Silent Sam was visited by numerous UNC football fans after the game on Saturday. The Herald-Sun

The Confederate monument “Silent Sam” survived another Saturday at UNC Chapel Hill despite some social media chatter that there would be another protest.

A handful of anti-Silent Sam protesters heeded the call and showed up before UNC’s first home football game against California. They brought signs decrying Silent Sam’s place on campus. But they packed up and were long gone by the time the game ended.

After the game, a steady stream of UNC fans and a few from California stopped by the site to take pictures of the statue and ponder its meaning.

Todd Robinson, a physician from Savannah, Georgia and a 1988 UNC graduate, said he purposely walked by Silent Sam after the game. He said he wanted to see the statue before it was gone.

“It might be gone by Christmas,” Robinson said. “You just never know.”

Robinson said he returns to Chapel Hill once or twice a year to attend a football or basketball game. He’s been keeping up with the protests and said he knows the statue won’t be around forever.

Ryan McDonnell of Hillsborough said he also made a special trip across campus to see Silent Sam.

“I went here and I wanted to get some pictures before it’s gone,” McDonnell said. “It’s days are numbered. It will probably come down sooner than later.”

Karen Kotze and Ron Cacioppe from Perth, Australia, said they had heard of the controversy surrounding Silent Sam and they wanted to see the statue for themselves.

That’s also the reason a group of California fans said they made their way to Silent Sam.

“The Taliban take down monuments, not Americans,” one of them said. “And we’re from Berkeley.”

Prior to the game, fans largely ignored the statue and the anti-Silent Sam protesters gathered near it.

Through the years, Silent Sam has drawn its share of protests calling for its removal. The checkered past of the monument goes all the way back to when Julian Carr, a white supremacist Confederate veteran, delivered a fiery speech at its dedication in 1913.

Most recently, Silent Sam came under scrutiny from protesters following the Aug. 12 riot in Charlottesville, Virginia.

That protest resulted in the death of Heather Heyer, who was struck by a car driven by a man supporting the gathering of white nationalist groups. After a Confederate statue was torn down in downtown Durham on Aug. 14, attention turned to Chapel Hill and Silent Sam.

The threat of a protest on Aug. 15 at Silent Sam prompted UNC campus police to ring the statue in a pair of crowd-control barricades. Anti-Silent Sam protesters gathered but only marched and shouted. The next day, after the imminent danger to the statue had abated, the barricades were removed. The protesters then settled in peacefully and encamped.

During this time, UNC Chancellor Carol Folt resisted calls for the statue to be removed even though Gov. Roy Cooper seemed to give her an out. He said the statue could be removed because there was a threat to public safety. But Folt chose to follow state law preventing the statue from being removed without legislative approval.

The sit-in continued through the weekend and was not countered until Aug. 19. That’s when a small number of Confederate flag waving out-of-towners showed up on UNC’s campus to voice their support for the monument to UNC alumni and students who served or died during the Civil War.

The encampment finally was removed by UNC police on Thursday and the area around Silent Sam was cleaned up.

Silent Sam has stood for more than 100 years, except for a short time in the mid-1980s when it was removed for cleaning and refurbishment.

Joe Johnson: 919-419-6678, @JEJ_HSNews