Student activists at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, are entering the seventh day of a sit-in at the base of a Confederate monument.
The statue, known as “Silent Sam,” is dedicated to students from the university who fought for the Confederacy. It seemed like it might come down last week, after days of renewed unrest, but the university and the governor were at an impasse.
Removing public memorials is a fraught legal affair in North Carolina due to state law that makes removing Confederate memorials, statues and monuments legally difficult. But Governor Roy Cooper told UNC officials last week they could get rid of the statue, saying the tensions around it were cause for public safety concerns, which would allow the university to bypass needing to get permission for removal from the state historic commission.
But UNC officials said that the governor’s permission wasn’t legally sound. The public safety loophole, they said, couldn’t be used unless there was a physical, structural issue that would be a public safety concern.
“The university is now caught between conflicting legal interpretations of the statute from the governor and other legal experts,” UNC officials said in a statement at the time. “Based on law enforcement agencies’ assessments, we continue to believe that removing the Confederate monument is in the best interest of the safety of our campus, but the university can act only in accordance with the laws of the state of North Carolina.”
The statue has long been a site for protests, but recent events have prompted more action as universities and localities have been removing more and more Confederate statues in recent days. The revived anti-Confederate monument movement stems from violence in Charlottesville, Va., that left a woman dead after white supremacists used a statue of Robert E. Lee as rallying point for their cause.
The sit-in has also led to counter protesters, some of who, have brought Confederate flags.
Protesters have said that they’re prepared to stay as long as necessary.
"The reason we feel strongly that the statue comes down is what it represented to the people who put it here," UNC student and sit-in participant Mitch Xia told a local news station. A message sent to a group email address set up for the protesters was not returned, and neither was a request for comment from UNC officials.
Statue Removed at Randolph
The sit in comes as a Confederate statue was recently removed at Randolph College, in Lynchburg, Va., one of the latest in the recent spate of monument removals. The statute in question was of George Morgan Jones, a member of the Confederate army who went on to be a donor to the institution.
“[Critics] point out that the statue was erected at a time (1912) when there was a rise of white supremacist sentiment in the nation, and that the flood of Confederate statues that were created at that time were part and parcel of the same political movement that put in place the Jim Crow laws. They argue that the statue has no place on a diverse campus that welcomes people of all races and that explicitly embraces equality for all,” Randolph President Bradley W. Bateman said in a statement.
Bateman also said that Randolph was not founded until 25 years after the Civil War, and that the statue does not accurately reflect Jones’ rank, depicting him as an officer even though he was a cook who reached the rank of buck private.
The statue was quickly and quietly removed so that neo-Nazis and white supremacists couldn’t rally around to defend the statue, Bateman said.
Debate in a Debating Society
At the University of Georgia, Athens alt-weekly Flagpole Magazine reported that the debate society took down a portrait of Robert E. Lee in its building.
The decision was split, and some members were worried about the precedent the removal might set, and noted that the painting was opposite one of Martin Luther King.
“We no longer have a graphic depiction of where were are and how far we've come," Gilbert Head, a member of the society, said.