A famous statue on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill became the latest target in the debate over relics of the Confederacy in the South. According to local media reports, UNC's Confederate memorial "Silent Sam" was vandalized by anti-racism activists over the weekend, with the words "Black Lives Matter," "Murderer" and "KKK" reportedly spray-painted on the base of the statue. Local authorities are currently investigating the vandalism, and no arrests have been made at this time.
Erected in 1913, the "Silent Sam" memorial honors the more than 300 UNC students who were killed while fighting for the Confederate Army during the Civil War, according to a description from the university's website. The statue has been nicknamed "Silent Sam" because the young soldier depicted does not carry a cartridge box for ammunition.
This is hardly the first time the memorial has been defaced or tampered with. In late 2014, the statue was found with a hood over Sam's head and a long rope at the base, presumably to mimic a hanging, WTVD in Chapel Hill reported. The statue has long been a controversial site for UNC students, and a group called the Real Silent Sam Coalition has been working over the last several years to "contextualize" the memorial as well as other statues and buildings around campus representing Confederate icons. The coalition has yet to release a formal statement on the Silent Sam vandalism.
According to UNC's student newspaper The Daily Tar Heel, school administrators have been discussing how to contextualize these Confederate memorials over the last year. In a statement issued Sunday, the school's associate vice chancellor of Communications and Public Affairs, Rick White, reiterated the measures board members have taken to redefine these Confederate relics:
We understand that the issue of race and place is both emotional and, for many, painful. Carolina is working hard to ensure we have a thoughtful, respectful and inclusive dialogue on the issue. The extensive discussions with the Carolina community this past year by the Board of Trustees and University leadership, and the work we will be doing to contextualize the history of our campus is a big part of advancing those conversations. We welcome all points of view, but damaging or defacing statues is not the way to go about it.
Yet the Real Silent Sam Coalition, which is composed of students, faculty and community members, is worried that the school's proposed plaques won't go far enough to dismantle the racism and supremacy inherent in some of the memorials and building names found on the historic Chapel Hill campus.
"The Board of Trustees thinks that activism will stop and has taken it upon themselves to be the primary agents of contextualizing," former Real Silent Sam Coalition activist Nikhil Umesh recently told The Daily Tar Heel. "If they put a plaque on here, I highly doubt that the words 'white,' 'black' or 'race' will be used on that plaque."
This latest display of protest-driven vandalism comes just a week after someone spray-painted a statue of Christopher Columbus with a "Black Lives Matter" message in a park in Boston's North End neighborhood. Columbus' face was also splashed with bright red paint. The statue was cleaned by the city's park department almost immediately.
Images: Wikimedia Commons, Real Silent Sam Coalition/Tumblr