Culture

UNC Punishing Student for Protesting Pro-Slavery Monuments

Doctoral candidate Maya Little issues a statement and petition against the anti-Free Speech tactics.

Photo Credit: Daniel Hosterman

Maya Little has spent a year protesting—in nearly every legally sanctioned way—the presence of a Confederate statue named “Silent Sam” on the campus of her college at UNC-Chapel Hill. On April 30, frustrated by the University’s continued inaction, she finally took the only recourse available to her. Little poured red ink and her own blood on the statue’s pedestal, the mixture a symbolic representation of the blood of African-Americans that already stains the monument to the Confederacy.

“I smeared my blood and red ink on the statue because the statue was lacking proper historical context,” Little, a UNC doctoral student in history, told the school’s paper a day later. “This statue, Silent Sam, was built on white supremacy. It was built by white supremacists. It was built by people who believed that Black people were inferior and wanted to intimidate them. So these statues were built on Black blood. These statues symbolize the violence toward Black people. Without that blood on the statue, it’s incomplete, in my opinion. It’s not properly contextualized.”

Silent Sam was erected in 1913. Speaking at the dedication ceremony, North Carolina industrialist Julian Carr bragged that he had once “horse-whipped a negro wench” near the statue site and praised Confederate soldiers for protecting “the welfare of the Anglo Saxon race during the four years immediately” after the Civil Waran unambiguous lauding of the Ku Klux Klan for carrying out terror against black citizens. The school’s refusal to remove the statue, which costs the university $621,000 a year to maintain, suggests a steadfast refusal to break, even now, with Carr’s explicitly stated dedication to white supremacy.

Little was arrested by UNC police for her protest and faces a misdemeanor charge of defacing a public monument. Earlier this month, she learned that the school’s Honor Court is also charging her with violating the university honor code. Considering both UNC’s history of ignoring similar actions by students, the charges reek of hypocrisy, and seem a transparent effort to chill both free speech and student activism, particularly in relation to Silent Sam.

Little has issued a statement about the Honor Court charges and the school’s history of punishing dissent by its black students. Supporters have launched a petition demanding that all charges against Little—filed by the university and its police force—be summarily dropped. Please sign the petition here. Little's message, in its entirety, is below:

On June 4, the UNC Office of Student Conduct officially charged me with violating the honor code by “stealing, destroying, or misusing property.” My Honor Court hearing may very well coincide with the criminal trial I already face for spilling red ink and my blood on Silent Sam. The Honor Court will determine whether my protest against Confederate monuments is conduct unbecoming of a UNC affiliate.

I can find no record of the Honor Court charging students for painting Silent Sam Carolina blue in 1982. But Daily Tar Heel records confirm that neither campus nor Chapel Hill police made any effort to arrest those students. Similarly, the paper reported that NC State students who painted Sam in 1974 were released by campus police without charges. At UNC, dousing the monument in paint in the name of basketball is deemed a pastime while doing the same to contextualize and fight racism is a crime. Revealing the racist violence upon which Sam was built—exposing a truth the university would like to keep coveredcould result in my expulsion.

UNC uses its disciplinary boards to punish political activism and its police to suppress free speech. Chancellor Folt and the Associate Vice Chancellor for Campus Safety and Risk Management, Derek Kemp, appointed an undercover police officer to infiltrate our movement and lie to and gather information on students fighting against racism. Why was it necessary to use tactics designed to entrap and engender mistrust among us? Perhaps because they are longstanding tactics of UNC administrators targeting anti-racist activists. Kemp and Folt carry on a practice that can be traced to campus police collusion with the FBI to spy on Black Student Movement (BSM) members in the 1970s. It is likely that black students protesting the 1971 murder of James Cates by a white motorcycle gang in the Pit were also targets of this surveillance. This spring, Silent Sam protesters created a series of historical markers to educate the public about Cates’s murder and the untold history of white supremacy at UNC. When UNC police ripped apart these markers on April 30, 2018, they destroyed the only memorials to Cates that existed on our campus.The Honor Court, Board of Trustees, and Faculty Council have stood by idly as members of campus police, Derek Kemp, and Chancellor Folt continue to violate our First Amendment rights. How long will students be punished for demanding that black lives matter at UNC?

In 2015, another activist wrote “Who Is Sandra Bland?” on Silent Sam. It was a fitting addition to a statue christened by boasts about horsewhipping a black woman who had sought safety on university grounds. Not only did UNC fail to protect her, it bestowed an honorary degree upon her attacker, Julian Carr. To this day, he holds that honorific. He is memorialized in the names of a building I have taught in and the town that I live in.  Those who speak up are silenced and targeted, but violence against people of color and women goes unpunished. That violence is then celebrated in the protection of monuments such as Silent Sam, Aycock Hall, and plaques to families including the Kenans, who built their wealth on enslaved black labor. These are the crimes I hoped to expose when I poured my own blood on Silent Sam. Now I ask, how will UNC’s Honor Court act? Will they preserve what Dr. King called “a negative peace, which is the absence of tension,” or will they stand for the rights of their peers fighting for racial equality?

It is time to truly uphold lux libertas, light and freedom, at UNC. Chancellor Folt, the Board of Governors, and Margaret Spellings have already shown their opposition to both. The student representatives of the Honor Court have chosen to investigate me, but they can still take this opportunity to act for free speech—and against white supremacy.

Maya Little,

UNC Student and Graduate Worker

6/14/2018

This article was produced by Make It Right, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

 

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Kali Holloway is a senior writing fellow and the senior director of Make It Right, a project of the Independent Media Institute.