CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (CN) – The President of the University of North Carolina and the university system’s board of governors on Tuesday promised a full investigation will be conducted in the Monday night protest that toppled a century-old Confederate monument on the state’s flagship campus.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper condemned the vandalism in a tweet, but said that he shares the demonstrators’ frustration in the current pace of change.
An estimated 250 demonstrators assembled on the grounds of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill beginning at about 7 p.m. Monday night, and initially shrouded the statue, known as “Silent Sam,” with canvas.
However, about two hours later, emboldened protesters knocked the monument down.
Almost immediately afterward, UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt released an open letter on the matter which said in part, “Tonight’s actions were dangerous and we are very fortunate that no one was injured.
“We are investigating the vandalism and assessing the full extent of the damage,” Folt said.
On Tuesday, university system President Margaret Spellings and board chairman Harry Smith released a statement that said, “The safety and security of our students, faculty, and staff is paramount … and the actions last evening were unacceptable, dangerous, and incomprehensible.
“We are a nation of laws and mob rule and the intentional destruction of public property will not be tolerated,” they added.
Silent Sam’s continued presence at the campus has been a sore spot for many students since the nationwide debate over confederate monuments in the wake of the shooting of nine black congregants by white gunman in a historically black Charleston, S.C. church in June 2015. The gunman, Dylann Roof, was a self-described white supremacist who said he carried out the murders to start a race war in the United States.
Debate over symbols of the Confederacy ignited anew last summer after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. resulted in the death of a counter-protester.
In April, police in Chapel Hill arrested a student-activist, Maya Little, for coating Silent Sam with red paint. Her potential expulsion over the incident reportedly inspired many students to attend Monday night’s demonstration.
The statue was erected in 1913 to honor the nearly 2,000 university students who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. It was donated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Karen Cox, UNC Charlotte professor of history, said some of the outrage surrounding the statue was the revelation of a speech given by Confederate veteran Julian Carr during its original placement.
Cox, who authored “Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture,” said historical context is important when looking at what these monuments mean in a modern context.
“Many were being erected 50 years after the Civil War ended during a generation of Jim Crow laws, and they reflect the violence and white supremacy of that time,” she said.
Cox said those sentiments have long been rejected by North Carolina universities, but she said what on the face may appear to be a simple bronze soldier, is the maintenance of historical inaccuracy.
According to the AP report, many argue that Confederate monuments should remain standing as a tribute to fallen ancestors.
“United Daughters of the Confederacy funded many of these statues to honor the narrative of white men who joined the Confederate army and sacrificed their lives during the Civil War,” Cox said. “But, modernly the monuments represent outdated thinking, and white-wash slavery and violence against people of color out of the story.”