As opposing groups plan to gather Thursday night at the site of UNC’s toppled Silent Sam Confederate monument, the university and Chapel Hill are preparing for the possibility of violence.
Two events are scheduled for Thursday night on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. A group known as ACTBAC, or Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County, plans a twilight service to honor the fallen Confederate soldier statue at 8 p.m. near the empty pedestal, according to the organization’s Facebook page.
At 7:30 p.m., students and others opposed to Confederate statues plan a “Silent Sam Dance Party and Speakout” at the same location, which the group called the “Silent Sam Stump.”
UNC leaders posted a letter to the campus community Wednesday telling people to stay away from the area, known as McCorkle Place.
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“We know from past experience that when groups with opposing views come together in a highly charged environment, there is a real possibility for demonstrations to escalate to violence,” said the letter, from Chancellor Carol Folt and Provost Robert Blouin. “Your safety is always our highest priority.”
The dueling demonstrations come after Saturday’s clash between a small group of people carrying Confederate flags and a larger group of counterprotesters near the statue. Police made seven arrests that day on various charges, including assault, resisting an officer and damage to property. The groups showed up five days after Silent Sam was toppled in a larger protest on Aug. 20.
The Facebook page of the UNC Students of the Silent Sam Sit-in advertised their event with the slogan “dance on his grave!” adding, “White supremacists are coming to UNC on Thursday night for a ‘Twilight Vigil’ for Silent Sam. Come dance, speak out, shut them down and show them that hate is not welcome on our campus.”
The ACTBAC Facebook page posted a warning Wednesday, advising people not to start trouble.
“We have one cause and one cause only,” the post said. “NOTHING MORE AND NOTHING LESS. Our cause is to show support for the damaged memorial and to give our respects to those he represents. To the sons of UNC and the old North state. Silent Sam has silently stood in honor looking North to make sure that those names and sons are not forgotten.”
Saying “you are either with us or against us and our cause,” the group said it was establishing ground rules for the event.
“We hope and pray for a peaceful and honorable service tomorrow,” the Facebook post said. “That being said, there will be a large amount of devilish and ungodly opposition. They are not coming to play on the merry-go-round and play pattiecake in the sand box. They are vulgar, loud, disrespectful towards police and women, they will attempt to belittle you and call you every name in the book, and the worst of the worst, they are violent.”
The gathering, in the evening, is likely to present a challenge to public safety. On Saturday, police had set up barricades around the pedestal, blocked off a central street through campus and erected barricades in downtown Chapel Hill. Officers from several area law enforcement agencies were on hand, including campus police departments from across the UNC system.
On Tuesday, UNC campus officials said they are seeking a “lawful and lasting” plan for the future of the Confederate monument, which is now in an undisclosed location for safekeeping. The UNC system’s board of governors directed Folt and the campus board of trustees to come up with a plan by Nov. 15. Folt has said all options are on the table, including moving Silent Sam to a different location or reinstalling the statue to its original spot.
“Our police have already begun working with all the partners,” Folt said Tuesday. “There are resolution agreements that bring officers from around the state to assist. They are well under way at considering that, and I do really think they will do everything necessary to keep the peace at that moment and keep us going forward.”
The letter from Folt and Blouin encouraged students, faculty and staff to report any threats or call 911 if they feel threatened on campus. The university also offered counseling services.
Staff photographer Julia Wall contributed to this report.