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Prayer and protests over Silent Sam on Sunday, a graduation day for some UNC students

Pro-Confederate and anti-racist demonstrators face off at Silent Sam on graduation day

A group called the Heirs to the Confederacy gathered for a prayer rally on UNC’s McCorkle Place on Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. They were met by anti-racist protesters and the two groups shouted at each other off and on for several hours.
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A group called the Heirs to the Confederacy gathered for a prayer rally on UNC’s McCorkle Place on Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. They were met by anti-racist protesters and the two groups shouted at each other off and on for several hours.

Student protesters and supporters of Silent Sam met at the empty base of the statue again Sunday in a confrontation that at times had the air of a playground standoff.

The shouting started around noon Sunday when members of the Heirs to the Confederacy walked to McCorkle Place to hold a prayer at the stone base that once held the Confederate statue known as Silent Sam. They were quickly joined by counter protesters and the groups traded insults.

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Members of Heirs to the Confederacy gathered at the empty base of the Silent Sam statue in Chapel Hill on Sunday for a prayer service. They were met by protesters. Julia Wall jwall@newsobserver.com

Members of each group tried to make speeches while members of the opposing group tried to shout them down. Both sides had megaphones, and the counter protesters brought along rap and punk music, party honkers and a loud siren. Barricades separated the two groups as campus police kept watch.

Multiple protests against and in support of the monument have been held on the UNC campus over the past year, including one that brought the statue down in August.

According to the Heirs to the Confederacy Facebook page, Sunday’s event was “to show our respects to the Silent Sam monument and our ancestors.”

The group that wants the Confederate statue off the Chapel Hill campus held a short “anti-racist commencement rally” outside the Dean Smith Center, where about 2,300 UNC students were graduating, before heading to McCorkle Place. They held signs congratulating graduates and saying that, “Tradition and legacy are euphemisms for white supremacy.”

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Anti-racist protesters gathered outside the Dean Smith Center to express congratulations to graduates on fall commencement day, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. Julia Wall jwall@newsobserver.com

On Friday, the UNC system Board of Governors rejected a recommendation that the university build a $5.3 million history center for the monument and instead formed a committee to come up with a new plan by March 15. Protesters do not want the statue re-installed. Its supporters say its represents history and tradition.

On Sunday, when they weren’t trying to drown each other out, the two sides were on their phones, taking photos and videos. About eight people came to show their support for the monument. One had a Confederate flag over his shoulder. Whenever a member of the media tried to interview one of the group, the two dozen or so anti-Silent Sam protesters blasted their noisemakers.

Except for the occasional passerby and whoever was watching protesters’ Facebook Live broadcasts, the only audience was local media and some freelance videographers and photographers.

The face-off ended around 4 p.m. when the Heirs group packed up to go. At least a dozen campus officers surrounded them and escorted them to Franklin Street — the edge of campus — while the anti-racist group shouted “Nazis, go home.” The counter protesters dispersed shortly after.

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