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Silent Sam is gone, but pro-Confederacy and anti-racist groups still clash at UNC

Silent Sam is gone, but clashes in Chapel Hill continue

Pro-Confederate and anti-racist protesters met in Chapel Hill again this Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. The two groups yelled at each other as they walked around McCorkle Place then down Franklin St. until pro-Confederate demonstrators dispersed and left.
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Pro-Confederate and anti-racist protesters met in Chapel Hill again this Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. The two groups yelled at each other as they walked around McCorkle Place then down Franklin St. until pro-Confederate demonstrators dispersed and left.

Six months after the toppling of Silent Sam and a month after the erasure of the Confederate statue’s stone base from the UNC campus, pro-monument and anti-racist protesters battled again Saturday at the site with banners, bull horns and Bluetooth speakers.

Despite some shoving and a brief tug-of-war over a Confederate flag, there were no arrests and there appeared to be no injuries except to participants’ vocal cords during the two-hour clash. The pro-monument group had announced on social media its plans to gather at the site of the former monument, which its members have said represented history and should have been preserved.

They were driven by an unceasing cold rain Saturday to the portico of the nearby Graham building on campus, and were met there by two to three times as many anti-racist protesters. On a Facebook page, some members of the group had said they would raise a Confederate flag on campus during the event.

The two sides had met many times before, starting when Silent Sam still stood on UNC’s McCorkle Place, just off Franklin Street. The statue was placed there in 1913 to honor university students who went to fight in the Civil War, according to its inscription.

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022218-CONFEDERATE UNC-TEL-01.JPG
A pro-Confederate protester looks over the lyrics to “Dixie” before engaging with anti-racist protesters in a roving shouting match around UNC Chapel-Hill campus and Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Despite some shoving and a brief tug-of-war over a Confederate flag, there were no arrests and there appeared to be no injuries. TRAVIS LONG tlong@newsobserver.com

The beleaguered monument was pulled to the ground in August 2018 by protesters who said it represented a racist past and did not deserve a place on campus. In January, as she decided to leave her job as UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor, Carol Folt ordered the statue’s remaining stone base removed from McCorkle Place. The order became one of her last official acts as leader of the campus.

The statue’s absence appeared Saturday to have done little to soften the anger between the two groups, and in fact made it more difficult for campus and Chapel Hill police to keep the two sides apart. When they gathered at the base of the statue, the foes were separated by police barriers.

As they pressed under the shelter of the porch, tempers flared and accusations flew that this one had shoved that one.

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022218-CONFEDERATE UNC-TEL-06.JPG
Pro-monument and anti-racist protesters engage in a roving shouting match around UNC Chapel-Hill campus and Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Despite some shoving and a brief tug-of-war over a Confederate flag, there were no arrests and there appeared to be no injuries. TRAVIS LONG tlong@newsobserver.com

After a while, the pro-monument group stepped into the weather and made a lap around the plaza, with the anti-racists on their heels and news media following along. The whole parade then walked two blocks east on Franklin Street before turning around, coming back and eventually dispersing with no major incidents.

UNC student Christian Jones, 21, stopped by to see what was happening between the two groups but quickly became frustrated with the shouted obscenities, the chanting and competing music.

Early on, he said, he favored the removal of the statue, but hoped it could be done lawfully. Now that it’s down, he said, both sides need to move on.

“Silent Sam is gone. It’s not coming back,” he said. “I wish they wouldn’t come out here and yell at each other. It’s just not very productive.”

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Martha Quillin is a general assignment reporter at The News & Observer who writes about North Carolina culture, religion and social issues. She has held jobs throughout the newsroom since 1987.


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