A convoy of Confederate heritage supporters from Alamance County will roll into town Sunday afternoon to rally around the beleaguered statue of Silent Sam on UNC’s campus.
Confederate North Carolina to Defend Silent Sam’s Honor is being organized at 2 p.m. by Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County and Orange County Taking Back Orange County.
Counter-protesters organizing an anti-Confederate, pro-refugee protest are expected to gather at 1 p.m. in front of the Chapel Hill Post Office.
Silent Sam – the statue of a Confederate soldier on UNC’s campus near Franklin Street – has been targeted by protesters and vandals several times this year. It has been blindfolded and spray-painted with the words “KKK” and “murderer.” About two dozen protesters interrupted a University Day ceremony earlier this month at Memorial Hall, chanting, “Tear it down or we shut you down.”
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The protesters want the university to remove the statue because they say it is a monument to white supremacy and slavery.
The statue was installed in 1913 as a memorial to 321 alumni who died in the Civil War and students who joined the Confederate Army. Carrboro namesake Julian Carr participated in the ceremony, reportedly saying in the speech that he had whipped a Negro woman until her skirt was in tatters.
While the university’s Board of Trustees voted this year to rename a campus building that had been named for a purported Ku Klux Klan leader, the board also put a 16-year ban on renaming buildings. The state legislature also made it harder to remove statues and memorials from public property.
Gary Williamson, a organizer of Sunday’s Confederate rally, said the public and students in Chapel Hill don’t seem to really understand what Silent Sam represents.
“It’s nothing racist,” said Williamson, founder of the Burlington-based group Southern Heritage Preservation.
“It’s standing up namely for the school itself, which a lot of people don’t understand, and the folks who went to Chapel Hill, the student body who fought for the cause of Northern oppression,” Williamson said. “That’s what the Civil War was about.”
The Confederate flag also has been misunderstood, he said, and groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacists, have twisted its meaning to represent their views. Southerners who fought in the Civil War were standing up for their rights by opposing “overbearing government, taxes” and the taking of their land, he said.
“We’re not just standing up for one particular thing,” Williamson said. “We’re standing up for the state of North Carolina and the good parts that need to be remembered, not the bad stuff. The bad stuff, we had no part in, and that’s not why we fought the war.”
Chapel Hill police have standing plans for how to handle rallies and protests, because they happen routinely throughout the year, police spokesman Lt. Josh Mecimore said.
The department can call on neighboring agencies if it needs help, he said. It also works with UNC Public Safety, where their duties overlap, to ensure safe events.
“It all depends on the circumstances and what happens that day,” Mecimore said. “A huge part of what we do is monitoring the crowd, monitoring their behavior and monitoring any counter-protests, trying to ensure that those don’t turn into something beyond protests.”
UNC Public Safety also is concerned with protecting the university’s tradition of free speech and civil protest, spokesman Randy Young said.
“But we also understand the potentially contentious nature of this, of the subject matter surrounding Silent Sam,” Young said. “We’re going to continue to monitor it and take appropriate steps to support a respectful discourse.”
Williamson said organizers have been in contact with police and appreciate their effort to make the rally safe. Counter-protesters have as much right to be there as his group, he said. Organizers see it as an opportunity to educate others and contribute to the conversation, he said.
“We’re not protesting anything. We’re just standing up,” he said. “As far as we’re concerned, that’s our monument, and that’s UNC’s monument, and it wouldn’t be there if there was not a reason to be there. (That reason is) to honor the men and the students that fought. We want this to be educational.”