Activists place plaques to remember UNC's painful racial past in the wake of Silent Sam

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ByJoel Brown via WTVD logo
Wednesday, February 13, 2019
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On the UNC-Chapel Hill campus Tuesday, this was about honoring black history that activists believe had been ignored for too long.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- One hundred and five years ago in Chapel Hill, Julian Carr, the wealthy Durham businessman and philanthropist and dogged white supremacist, spoke at UNC's dedication ceremony for the Silent Sam Confederate monument.

Carr regaled the crowd with a story of whipping a black woman who dared to talk back to a white woman on Franklin Street. Over a century later, social justice activists installed a plaque on that very spot to honor the black woman and not Carr.

On the UNC-Chapel Hill campus Tuesday, this was about honoring black history that activists believe had been ignored for too long.

A second plaque was placed outside UNC's Student Union. It's in honor of James Cates, a UNC student activist stabbed to death by a biker gang in the Pit 49 years ago.

In the meantime, inside the Student Union, UNC graduate student Maya Little was appealing her punishment in the UNC Honors Court for smearing her own blood and red paint on the Silent Sam statue last April.

Little's classmate, Courtland Gilliam, sat outside in support wearing a symbolic noose around his neck - which represents what he calls the burden of black students at largely white institutions.

"The weight of it, the symbolic meaning and significance for me, not only as a black American is heavy, emotionally, but, it's a fraction of what Maya is going through," Gilliam said.

Gilliam was there Tuesday afternoon as a coalition of social justice activists installed the plaques that included laminated notes warning that the removal of the creations would be a violation of state law.

"There's been a need for them for a very long time," said UNC senior Annie Simpson, who along with two classmates used their artistic talents and own materials to create the plaques.

"I think it means that we're reclaiming this landscape. For so long, it's been constructed as a white supremacist landscape and we want to fight back against that," she said.

Gilliam added, "We have buildings named after KKK members, we have buildings named after white supremacists, so I think it's a great counterbalance."

It's not clear how long these unauthorized memorials to UNC Black History will last on campus. The university declined to comment on them tonight.

Back inside the Student Union, Maya Little's Honor Court appeal hearing lasted until 9:00 p.m.

There's no word yet on a decision.

On Wednesday, UNC said the James Cates memorial was removed due to the facility's use policy.