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We’re updating our most popular stories of 2018. No. 5: A monument falls, a dispute stands

The rise and fall of Silent Sam

Silent Sam has stood on UNC-Chapel Hill's McCorkle Place for 105 years. On Monday August 20, 2018, it was brought down by protesters.
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Silent Sam has stood on UNC-Chapel Hill's McCorkle Place for 105 years. On Monday August 20, 2018, it was brought down by protesters.

We’re counting down the most popular stories of 2018 reported by The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun— five stories viewed millions of times by our readers — and we’re bringing you up to date on what has happened with each of them.

At No. 5 is an event that drew attention around the world, reported live on the evening of Aug. 20: “Protesters topple Silent Sam Confederate statue at UNC” by Jane Stancill, with reporting by Tammy Grubb, Julia Wall, Carli Brosseau and Travis Long.

THE STORY: When anti-racist protests that started a few years ago finally toppled the Confederate statue known as Silent Sam at UNC-Chapel Hill on the evening of Aug. 20, many thought that would be the end of the story. The monument was brought down after protesters covered it with tall, gray banners to create “an alternative monument.” Behind the banners, protesters tied ropes to the statue, and two hours into their protest, they pulled it down. (Watch highlights of the protest and see the statue fall in this video.)

Protests and vandalism had focused on the statue for years, and UNC had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on its security.

A crowd of protesters pull down the Confederate statue known as Silent Sam on the campus of the University of North Carolina Monday night, Aug. 20, 2018.

THE REST OF THE STORY: The dispute goes on. At least six demonstrations have been held since the statue fell, by groups who support or oppose restoring it to the McCorkle Place pedestal where it had been since 1913, and more than two dozen people have been arrested. Protesters have called the police response heavy-handed, especially after pepper spray and bikes were used to control demonstrations, and have sought meetings with Chapel Hill and UNC police officials.

UNC officials have said that state law does not allow them to remove the statue, but it does let them move it for its preservation or for public safety. The UNC system’s Board of Governors on Dec. 14 rejected a campus trustees’ proposal to build a $5.3 million university history center that could house the statue. The governors have appointed a five-member committee to work with UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt and the Board of Trustees to come up with a new plan by March 15.

Roughly 80 UNC graduate students and faculty, who had threatened to strike and withhold fall semester grades if the Board of Governors did not reject the proposed center, turned in those grades by Dec. 16. Their strike could continue in the spring if Silent Sam is returned to campus, the group’s supporters said.

Protests also have criticized a BOG resolution calling for a review of UNC system disciplinary policies. The proposed review could establish minimum sanctions, including suspension, expulsion or termination, for students, faculty and staff who participate in actions that threaten public safety.

Silent Sam, the Confederate statue at UNC-Chapel Hill, was doused with blood and red ink by protester Maya Little, Monday, April 30, 2018.

“The Confederate monument must never return to campus in any shape or form nor a center to its history be erected,” protesters said in a news release. “We further express here our right to freely assemble and to practice our freedom of speech on a matter of great public concern.” UNC officials haven’t said whether they will review a different, national security panel recommendation for an on-campus mobile platoon to back up UNC Police and a $2 million-a-year UNC systemwide mobile police force.

Meanwhile, the pedestal in the center of McCorkle Place stands empty.

On Monday April 30, 2018, Maya Little defaced UNC-Chapel Hill's Confederate monument, Silent Sam, with her own blood and red ink. "He's covered in black blood...that's his foundation," Little said.

Our most popular stories of 2018

Our countdown of the year’s top stories is based on digital readership of all reports written in 2018 by the staff of The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. In one case, two stories on the same series of events have been combined to avoid duplication. Offer feedback on our list to regional growth editor Eric Frederick at efrederick@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8956.

5. Protesters topple Silent Sam Confederate statue at UNC, Aug. 20.

4. Coming Thursday, Dec. 20.

3. Coming Friday, Dec. 21.

2. Coming Saturday, Dec. 22.

1. Coming Sunday, Dec. 23.

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer

Tammy Grubb has written about Orange County’s politics, people and government since 2010. She is a UNC-Chapel Hill alumna and has lived and worked in the Triangle for over 25 years.
Jane Stancill has reported on higher ed for The News & Observer for 20 years. She has won state and national awards for her coverage of education.
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