Demonstrators loudly urge Chancellor Folt to take down Silent Sam during protest in September
In an ongoing battle against a silent statue, protesters deployed drums, whistles and pots and pans to deliver a noisy message outside the office of UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt on Wednesday.
The lunchtime demonstration at the steps of UNC’s South Building was a raucous reminder to the university administration that student protesters aren’t going away on the issue of the Silent Sam Confederate statue on campus. For about an hour, about 40 people whipped up a racket with anything they could get their hands on, including homemade shakers or birthday party horns.
It was the latest protest in the first few weeks of the semester, since violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. A large protest last month drew about 1,000 to the monument, and since then a core group of protesters has staged intermittent sit-ins around Silent Sam.
Alex Joustra, who identified himself as a community member, took the bullhorn Wednesday, and aiming it to the door of South Building, said, “Carol, come out and play.”
He added: “This statue will not stand. We will not let it stand.”
In recent weeks, several universities have removed Confederate statues, including the University of Texas and Duke University, which took down a vandalized statue of Robert E. Lee from its famous chapel.
But Folt has said the university does not have the legal authority to take down Silent Sam, citing a 2015 state law that protects monuments from being moved or altered. Her interpretation differed from that of Gov. Roy Cooper, who said last month that the university could remove the monument under a public safety exception to the law. University lawyers have said that exception appears to apply only in situations where the statue itself poses a physical hazard.
Under the law, the N.C. Historical Commission could take up the issue, but the panel has little leeway to remove the statue permanently.
Legal opinions aside, students are applying pressure to Folt. “Carol Folt, where are you?” the crowd chanted Wednesday. Protesters also broke into the familiar refrain, “Tear it down, tear it down!”
The crowd marched around Polk Place, the large quad nearby, amid the mass of students going to and from class. Some clapped, some shot video and others ignored the marchers.
Tahj Warren, 20, a junior global studies major, recited a poem she had written about the monument.
“Dear Silent Sam, I’m not expecting a response because I know speaking isn’t your forte,” Warren said, “but I feel the need to say that your presence on this campus is problematic. Or at least that’s one way to phrase it. Honestly, your very existence sends the message that mine is irrelevant.”