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Students rally at UNC-Chapel Hill in wake of “Silent Sam” settlement

Students at UNC-Chapel Hill plan to protest today at the former site of the Silent Sam Confederate monument — a response to last week’s announcement that the UNC System will give the toppled statue to the North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans, along with $2.5 million.

The protest, organized by the UNC Black Congress and UNC Black Student Movement, will begin at 1 p.m. at McCorkle Place, where the statue stood for more than 100 years before it was torn down by protesters last August.

Students, lawyers and community members are vowing the fight the settlement.

The UNC-Chapel Hill Undergraduate Executive Branch issued a statement last week condemning the agreement. Ashton Martin, undergraduate student body president, expanded on that in an interview with Policy Watch this week.

“What I’ve heard across campus this week is that students feel giving money of any amount really to an organization like this really just legitimizes their position,” Martin said. “It shows the university is backing down and saying we see this organization as something we’re afraid of. I don’t like that.

Martin said she and other students were also frustrated that they were told the university was in a holding pattern on the statue’s future but that student and community input would be important to deciding its future.

In fact, as revealed in an email from Sons of Confederate Veterans leader Kevin Stone to his group members, UNC Board of Governors members and state legislators had been working and negotiating with the group for months on what became the final agreement.

“As someone who’s been very involved with this issue to hear about this resolution the day before Thanksgiving, with no prior knowledge… it’s been frustrating,” Martin said. “And it’s becoming more frustrating as more information becomes available,”

Last week Interim UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz sent a brief message to students saying that the UNC System had announced the settlement, offering his “deepest appreciation” to the UNC Board of Governors for resolving the matter.

Martin said she and other student leaders have talked with Guskiewicz this week.

“He gathered a lot of people who had a lot of strong opinions about it and let us say our piece about it,” Martin said. “But I think the entire campus doesn’t really know what to believe and who knew what when on this. And the timing is terrible. It’s the last week of class. There are exams coming up. It’s really not conducive to getting anything done.”

The UNC System has yet to answer questions from Policy Watch regarding the details and timeline of the settlement, including basic explanations of how the $2.5 million trust will be structured.

In the letter to his fellow Sons of Confederate Veterans, Stone suggested the group would use the money to preserve the statue — but also part of it for a group headquarters. That would seem at odds with specific language in the settlement documents outlining that the money was to be used for the benefit of the statue.

“There are a lot of things about his letter that don’t seem to match up with how it was explained to us,” Martin said. “It’s hard to know what to believe at this point.”

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