Activist Who Threw Ink and Blood On Silent Sam Cuffed By UNC Police
Civil War Memorial Is Focus Of Controversy and Politics
By Tristan Dufresne 5/1/18 11:30AM
Silent Sam, a statue commemorating University of North Carolina students who died fighting in the Civil War, has been a focal point for controversy and campus activism for many years, including large protests at the beginning of the 2017 fall semester.
UNC Chancellor Carol Folt has been criticized for not wielding her position as the head of the nation's first public university to order the statue's removal. Folt has publicly deferred to Governor Roy Cooper and the North Carolina General Assembly. A state law permits the removal of campus monuments only if they pose an "imminent threat" to safety.
At McCorkle Place, the tree-shaded campus quad bordered by Franklin Street to the north, activity picked up at 2 PM as a few people set up signs around the statue. The signs proclaimed the racist nature of Silent Sam's existence on a diverse campus.
Maya Little, a doctoral candidate at UNC's history department and an organizer in the fight for Silent Sam's removal, approached the statue of a Confederate States of America infantryman facing north.
The red ink Little threw slathered the plaque depicting the scene described above. By noon Tuesday, the red mixture was removed and the statue, its plinth, and surrounding walk had been pressure-washed.
Little approached the statue with two bottles of red ink mixed with (as reported to the Sundial by a fellow organizer) blood from a self-inflicted wound, and poured the bottles on the statue.
A UNC Police officer confronted Little and informed her that she was under arrest, then escorted her to a squad car while surrounded by Little's supporters, who chanted her name shouting, "You are loved!"
In anticipation of being taken into custody, Little released a written statement critical of Folt, which read in part: "Chancellor Folt and the administrators are … dedicated to silencing us. In her first two years, there was no state law against removing the statue. She has heard countless activists tell her the statue's presence dehumanizes and threatens people of color."
The statement concluded, "You, Chancellor Folt — and your donors, the students you recruit, the alumni you cater to — will be forced to see it until every facet of white supremacy on this campus has been removed."
A campaign led by a coalition of students and faculty members who call for Silent Sam's immediate removal developed in the wake of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 11-12, 2017, where the removal of a statue of Confederate military commander Robert E. Lee led to large-scale protests and the death of activist Heather Heyer.
Silent Sam was at the center of a tumultuous protest in the first week of the 2017 fall semester that drew a crowd of approximately 1,000 people calling for the statue's removal. The August 22 protest came in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville.
A Sundial reporter reached out by phone to UNC Police Department public information office Randy Young for comment but was directed by voicemail to the school's Office of Communications and Public Affairs. The office emailed the Piedmont Sundial the following statement.
"Shortly after 2 p.m. today (Mon., April 30), a woman from among a small group in McCorkle Place poured red paint on the Confederate Monument. A UNC Police officer took the individual, who will be charged with vandalism, into custody. UNC Facilities Services removed the paint from the monument."
While one protester gave a speech through a megaphone proclaiming UNC's obligation to condemn the values of the Confederacy and Jim Crow laws, Little stepped up to the statue, emptied the contents of the two bottles, which covered each side with a thick scarlet liquid.
"On the front of the monument, a brass plaque depicts a woman clad in classical dress, representing North Carolina, resting her hand on the shoulder of a seated student, convincing him to take up arms," reads a description of the plaque in the Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina reference available through DocuSouth, a digital archive presented by the University of North Carolina.
Shortly after Little's arrest, a group of workers sprayed the affected areas with a solvent and pressure-washed the red mixture away. Cleaning of the statue and its site continued Tuesday.
Samuel Finesurrey, who is also a UNC history doctoral candidate, was among the small circle of activists given prior notice of the action by Little. He told the Sundial, "We don't quite understand why this university continues to support this statue… It creates shame among this community."
Finesurrey said Silent Sam is just one symptom of "a larger problem within [UNC] where you have buildings named after Klan members and former slave owners; we're trying to figure out what this university represents.
"This is about Carol Folt; she has failed this campus," said Finesurrey. "She wants to contextualize the statue? Now it's contextualized; that is what happened today."
Alex Eaker, a sophomore at UNC, was present at the scene but does not consider himself to be active in the anti-Silent Sam camp. Eaker said he does find Little's protest to be laudable, however. "I see it as a step forward for social justice. . . and I really just think it's a good thing.
"There have been a lot of protests about this since I've been here, but this is the first time there's been an actual defacement," Eaker continued.
Another onlooker, sophomore Alexandra Smith, spoke to the Sundial as she surveyed the aftermath. "I think this is a sign that students and community members together are really fed up with the lack of response by the university," she said. "It's time to just have it removed from campus."
UNC Police have not responded to inquiries regarding Little's bail status as of publication. Protestors had returned to Silent Sam by Tuesday afternoon, as campus workers continued to treat the statue with solvents.