Students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are calling on the school to tear down a statue honoring students that died in the Civil War.
On Monday during University Day celebrations that commemorate the founding of UNC about two dozen students rose from their seats and disrupted proceedings, decrying the presence of “Silent Sam,” a statue that honors 321 UNC students killed in the Civil War. The statue is so named because it carries a gun but no bullets.
“Tear it down, or we shut you down,” the protesters cried before storming out to scattered applause, according to the Raleigh News and Observer.
The demonstrators argue that while Silent Sam is described as simply a monument to UNC’s students, the statue is actually intended as a statement of white supremacy. To back up this point, they cited the statue’s commemoration, held in 1913. At the commemoration, North Carolina industrialist and Civil War veteran Julian Carr declared that Confederate soldiers had saved the “Anglo-Saxon race” in the South, and boasted of “horse-whipping a Negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds” for allegedly insulting a white woman.
“When you dedicate a monument and brag about how you whipped a Negro wench, you can’t possibly argue 102 years later that this monument wasn’t about white supremacy,” doctoral student Shelby Dawkins-Law told the News and Observer. The students emphasized this point by hanging a black skirt from Silent Sam’s gun barrel, though it was removed shortly after by school officials.
Despite the disruption of University Day, school chancellor Carol Folt praised the students for feeling free to voice their opinions.
“I’m really glad that they felt comfortable to come here, and that we were all able to listen and hear their very important message,” she said.
Silent Sam has been repeatedly vandalized in recent months, as part of a backlash against Confederate heritage since the murder of nine black churchgoers by Dylann Roof in Charleston, S.C. last summer. The attacks are so frequent that UNC has installed a security camera to keep the statue under constant surveillance and detect any vandalism efforts.
UNC has already moved to erase some of its segregationist history. The school’s Saunders Hall was recently renamed Carolina Hall, since William Saunders was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.