How the Silent Sam rally was eclipsed by a massive student protest

We watched as the pro-Confederacy groups were outnumbered on McCorkle

A typical Sunday on UNC’s campus sees students lazily walking to and from Franklin Street – takeout food or coffee in hand. They cross the brick footpaths through sunny, green McCorkle Place and pass the iconic Old Well before filing into one of the libraries.

But yesterday wasn’t a typical Sunday in the Southern Part of Heaven.

Police officers surrounded the upper quad and the Silent Sam statue that stands in the middle was blocked off with metal fencing. The normally uninhabited quad was buzzing with activity.

On one side, students held signs reading “Against White Supremacy. Screw the klan, the confederacy, and the cops.” The words “Carolina-Anti-Racists” were emblazoned on an illustration of a burning Confederate flag.

Facing them, a much smaller group of people of all ages marched on the brick footpaths waving Confederate flags.

Among all the noise, Silent Sam, the controversial statue of a Confederate soldier, stood silently in the middle.

Earlier in the week, students were asked to avoid the upper quad on Sunday. Two Confederate heritage groups would be holding a rally to commemorate the statue.

One of the two pro-Confederate groups, Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County, said on its Facebook page that the rally represented “a big day for our State against the political correct views taking over our state”.

They claimed to be planning to “honor a beautiful monument that carries the names of those from the great state of North Carolina that fought and stood against tyranny and gave the ultimate sacrifice.”

The Tab UNC covered the rally live on Snapchat. Follow our channel, ‘The Tab UNC’. 

Instead of bypassing the area, Carolina students instead marched in counter-protest, largely outnumbering the pro-Confederate groups.

They carried signs that said “Black Lives Matter,” banners reading “keep the refugees, deport the racists,” and musical instruments in order to disrupt the rally.

When the pro-Confederate supporters arrived to the Morehead Planetarium parking lot parading large Confederate flags, counter-protestors began chanting, “hey hey, ho ho, this racist statue’s got to go” and “WHO’S university? OUR university.”

The Silent Sam monument was erected in 1913 as a memorial to the 321 UNC alumni who fought and died in the Civil War. The statue has repeatedly been spray painted with the words “KKK” and “Black Lives Matter,” the most recent episode reportedly occurring last Monday night.

But the pro-Confederate group members were not only rallying around the statue – they said they were supporting Southern heritage.

H.K. Edgerton, the guest speaker for one of the pro-Confederate groups, is a black Confederate activist who speaks at venues across the South. He said he hoped to debunk what he called the “many myths of the Yankee history and [set] the record straight regarding the misunderstanding and ignorance between the races.”

In 2002 he walked from North Carolina to Texas with a Confederate flag in hand and he told The Tab he believes it has been misrepresented by the media. Edgerton said: “It was Southern. That is all it was.”

Others at the rally didn’t agree.

First-year graduate student Kori Hill was among the Department of Musicology members who came out to support the counter-protestors.

She said: “I hope that the statue will eventually come down one day.”

The crowds grew in size as the rallies protracted. However, there were no talks between the two factions over the course of the protests.

As the hours passed, pro-Confederate supporters began to dwindle. And counter-protestors eventually walked the opposite way through the quad, back toward the libraries and their dorms. The crowd eventually thinned as police stood by.

And Silent Sam still stood.

Additional reporting and photographs by: Macie Flynn and Ashley Webster. 

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