A national group is targeting the UNC-Chapel Hill Confederate statue Silent Sam with two billboards in Raleigh.
The billboards feature an image of Silent Sam with red "X" over it, and the words "North Carolina needs a monumental change."
The Make It Right Project, which aims to take down Confederate monuments around the country, is paying for the ads. The project is part of the Independent Media Institute, a nonprofit, left-leaning organization that sponsors reporting on voting rights, drug policies and other issues.
Protests against Silent Sam that had been going on for decades increased in intensity in the past year, after the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.
In April, UNC-Chapel Hill graduate student Maya Little doused Silent Sam in red ink and her own blood. She was arrested on criminal charges and is facing a campus honor court hearing.
The billboards are meant to support the UNC-Chapel Hill students and community activists who have worked for years to get Silent Sam removed, said Kali Holloway, Make it Right project director.
"There's already a really strong student movement," she said. "Our goal is not to take away any of their thunder. We exist to elevate the work that they're already doing."
Silent Sam is one of 10 Confederate monuments around the country the project is targeting for removal.
The Raleigh billboards are on Blount Street near Hoke Street and on North Raleigh Boulevard near the intersection with Yonkers Road.
The Raleigh billboards' target audience is the N.C. Historical Commission, Holloway said. A special committee is considering a petition from Gov. Roy Cooper's administration to relocate three Confederate monuments from the state Capitol Grounds to Bentonville Battlefield in Johnston County, where they can be studied in context.
Residents have been pushing the Historical Commission to also consider requests to move Silent Sam.
The commission has received thousands of written public comments about the relocation of Raleigh statues. A public hearing last spring drew heavy support for keeping them in place. The N.C. Sons of Confederate Veterans sponsored its own billboard in April on Interstate 40 near Benson that featured Silent Sam and asked for help to "protect our veterans' monuments."
In a statement Thursday about the Raleigh billboards, the Sons of Confederate Veterans said it is "absurd for an out-of-state pressure group to affect change in North Carolina." Silent Sam is "an integral part of history and deserves protecting," the statement said.
The committee considering the Cooper administration petition was to have made a recommendation in April, but has not met publicly since the public hearing in March.
UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt has said Silent Sam is detrimental to the university, but that university lawyers determined that a 2015 state law protecting monuments makes it impossible for the university to move the statue. . Others think the law would allow the statue to be moved to protect it.
A bill to move the statue to an indoor location to protect it from vandalism died in the legislature this year without getting a hearing.
Heather Redding, a member of Hillsborough Progressives Taking Action, said the Historical Commission has an important decision to make on how it will handle requests to move Silent Sam.
"The monuments law I don't think has actually been tested because it's relatively new," she said.