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Arts & Culture

Silent Sam Protester: 'Eventually, These Statues Are Going To Come Down'

The base of the Confederate monument at UNC-Chapel Hill known as Silent Sam was doused in red Monday, April 30, 2018
Courtesy of Will Partin
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A Confederate monument nicknamed Silent Sam has been standing on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill since 1913.

For many, it's a harmless hunk of metal that commemorates students who fought for the South in the Civil War or a historic reminder of a less-than glorious past.

But increasingly, Silent Sam has come to symbolize violence and white supremacy, inextricably tied to slavery, racism and oppression.

UNC graduate student Maya Little wanted that particular sentiment reflected on the face of the statue.

Last week, Little dumped some of her own blood and red paint on it. She was arrested moments later, her black clothes covered in red. Little faces a charge of defacing a public monument.

She spoke with WUNC's Will Michaels. University representatives declined to comment. They referred to a comment that UNC Chancellor Carol Folt made last year, saying she would move the statue if she could, but state law prevents her from doing so.

Interview Highlights

On why she used some of her own blood to paint the statue:

“Racism at UNC didn't end in 1913. It's continuing. It's happening right now. This statue is not just dedicated by racists. It's not just built by racists. It's not just founded upon this idea of white supremacy. It's also founded upon the violence towards black people. That's the other side of white supremacy that is kind of quickly swept away, sanitized and whitewashed. It's founded on black blood.

On the question of whether or not the university unilaterally moving the statue breaks state law:

“When we talk about this idea of breaking a law, there have been plenty of people who have broken laws to protect their community and to fight for actual justice. We have a whole legacy of that in North Carolina, too, that we don't commemorate... the Greensboro sit-ins. We have a history of sit-ins in Chapel Hill. We have a whole history of breaking the law to fight for what's right. The first Freedom Riders were arrested in Chapel Hill in 1947, and they were tried, I think, in the same courthouse that I'll be tried in in 1949, and sent to segregated chain gangs.

On whether her action had its intended effect, given that UNC has not responded to it:

“Yes. What I'm also trying to expose is not just this notion of the chancellor saying, ‘I don't have the power to do this’ ...but what does she do? What actions does she take? She says she can't move the monument, so she doesn't do anything with the monument, but she takes the actions to clean the monument to make sure within a minute that my blood and the paint was washed off, to send campus police to make sure that no protesters were standing aronud the monument.

On the fate of Silent Sam:

“Silent Sam will eventually come down. This is the progress of history. This is where we're at now. I think people, especially in my generation, fell unconnected to these statues. They see them as the symbols of hate that they are. They see them as representing this larger issue of institutional racism. Eventually, these statues are going to come down, maybe soon, maybe 20 years from now. We don't know. The thing is when Chancellor Folt and others reflect back on that, they're going to say, ‘What did we do to support that?’

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