A handful of Confederate flag-waving, sign-carrying demonstrators try to get their point across in Chapel Hill. Bernard Thomas bthomas@heraldsun.com
A handful of Confederate flag-waving, sign-carrying demonstrators try to get their point across in Chapel Hill. Bernard Thomas bthomas@heraldsun.com

Orange County

Counterprotesters make their message clear as anti-Silent Sam activists maintain presence.

By Mark Donovan And Joe Johnson

mdonovan@heraldsun.com jjohnson@heraldsun.com

August 26, 2017 04:03 PM

UPDATED September 18, 2017 06:48 PM

CHAPEL HILL

By the time a handful of counterprotesters left the area near Silent Sam on UNC Chapel Hill’s campus Saturday, even the protesters calling for the removal of the Confederate memorial there seemed bored with them.

They sent the last three counterprotesters away with a sad rendition of the go-home song “Hey, Hey-ye Goodbye.”

The two groups stared each other down for about three hours after a spirited initial verbal skirmish. But UNC police stepped in and quickly defused the situation. They were more like parents sending disruptive children to their rooms.

The counterprotesters, numbering five or six at the beginning, were overwhelmingly outnumbered by the group of people who initially marched on Tuesday and have maintained a sit-in around the statue in protest since then. It was an odd juxtaposition with the protesters calling for the removal of Silent Sam to be encircling the monument and the Confederate flag-wearing statue supporters being held at bay.

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It generally was a cordial standoff but an occasional vulgar chant aimed at the counterprotesters did echoe into McCorkle Place from cars passing by on Franklin Street.

Confederate flag-waving counterprotesters show up at anti-Silent Sam vigil

A small group of Confederate flag-waving counterprotesters tried to interrupt an anti-Silent Sam vigil at UNC Chapel Hill on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017.

Scott Sharpe ssharpe@newsobserver.com

The counterprotesters, who said they were from Franklinton and Spring Hope, asked not to be identified by name. They said they just wanted to come to the Silent Sam memorial and exercise their right to protest.

“We don’t want any trouble,” one counterprotester said.

The counterprotesters carried Confederate flags, a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and signs calling for UNC to honor its Confederate war dead and to not desecrate memorials. Another said “Heritage, Not Hate.”

UNC’s Silent Sam has long been a flash point

The Confederate statue on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus was a point of friction and protest long before the Charlottesville rally in support of a statue of Robert E. Lee turned tragically violent and left three people dead, thrusting the issue into the national spotlight.

Lynn Bonner video, N&O file photos Video produced by John Hansen

Numerous people passed through the quad and largely ignored the counterprotesters, who finally packed it in shortly after 4 p.m. They were escorted off campus by university police.

Word of the counterprotest forming spread on social media and with a telephone call to The Herald-Sun shortly before 1 p.m. Saturday.

One of the protesters, who identified herself as UNC student Tahjamar Warren, called The Herald-Sun to say her group was being harassed by the counterprotesters.

“Some harassing people are circling the (Silent Sam) statue ... taunting us and making vague threats,” Warren said.

Warren said of her fellow sit-in protesters: “We are not armed.”

She said the sit-in protesters consisted of UNC students and sympathetic members of the community who want the Silent Sam statue to be removed and relocated.

Two of the five men carrying Confederate flags stand near a sit-in at the base of the Silent Same Confederate statue (background) on the UNC campus Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017. The men carrying the flags were in opposition to the sit-in group who is calling for the removal of the Silent Sam. The men refused to give their names.
Scott Sharpe ssharpe@newsobserver.com

On Twitter, the UNC Black Congress posted the following message accompanying a photo of four counterprotesters on Franklin Street headed toward the Silent Sam statue: “Spotted on franklin st. CALLING ON BODIES TO COME SUPPORT AND PROTECT IN NUMBERS (WHITE COMRADES) #SilentSSamsitin.”

Spotted on franklin st. CALLING ON BODIES TO COME SUPPORT AND PROTECT IN NUMBERS (WHITE COMRADES) #SilentSSamsitin pic.twitter.com/YqNPsOwnq9

— UNC Black Congress (@_blackcongress) August 26, 2017

Supporters at Silent Sam. Join the cause, sustain the pressure. Calling on all comrades to join when they can!! pic.twitter.com/ecDmRGe2cK

— UNC Black Congress (@_blackcongress) August 26, 2017

White supremacists are marching around us--anyone, but especially white folks on our side- this is the time to come out and join us here.

— Silent Sam Sit-In (@silentsamsitin) August 26, 2017

If you are person of color, please stay safe and away from the Silent Sam protest to avoid harassment from the alt-right groups.

— UNC-CH NAACP (@UNCCHNAACP) August 26, 2017

At about noon Saturday, the UNC-CH NAACP tweeted: “If you are person of color, please stay safe and away from the Silent Sam protest to avoid harassment from the alt-right groups.”

Emotions run high at 'Silent Sam' protest at UNC

Tempers flare and emotions run high in August during a rally and march calling for the removal of the Confederate statue known as 'Silent Sam' on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill.

Julia Wall, Ethan Hyman and Chuck Liddy jwall@newsobserver.com, ehyman@newsobserver.com and cliddy @newsobserver.com