Silent Sam & the Shadow of the Confederacy

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In this episode of the It’s Going Down podcast, we were honored to be able to talk with organizer Maya Little, one of the rebels who has been singled out again and again by the local power structure in Chapel Hill, North Carolina for their tireless role in ongoing mobilizations against the Confederate Silent Sam statue.

On August 20th, hundreds of community members, students, anarchists, and anti-racist activists toppled the Silent Sam Confederate statue, the culmination of years of struggle to remove the statue from the UNC campus and at the time, only the latest action which has seen the statue vandalized, protested against, and had an encampment spring up around it demanding that it be taken down. In the wake of the toppling, neo-Nazis and Alt-Right trolls began a campaign of harassment and doxxing, while police moved to charge protesters. A series of far-Right rallies were held in support of Silent Sam, featuring a variety of Neo-Confederate and neo-Nazi groups, many of which whom participated in the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.

In each of these incidents, police responded by protecting the far-Right, and focusing on repressing and containing everyone else. Most recently, the university has stated that it will use $5.3 million to rehouse the Confederate statue, with some of that money slated to go towards police efforts against local social movements. In response, demonstrations have been ongoing and TA’s at the UNC campus have launched a strike.

We start off our podcast discussion with Little by talking about the history of Confederate statues in the South. Far from being organic expressions emanating from the public, they were part of a push from groups such as The Daughters of the Confederacy, which sought to popularize the “Lost Cause” through everything from school history text books which whitewashed slavery to statues which dotted the social landscape in the Jim Crow South which sought to firmly cement white supremacy. During the civil rights movement, the South again saw another wave of Confederate monument construction.

Thus, Confederate statues like Silent Sam served a dual purpose, in both valorizing the Confederate cause in the eyes new generations, but also in presenting this history through the veil of “state’s rights” which sought to silence the discussion of white supremacy. Anyone that cares to actually read what Confederates thought about race however, quickly cuts through such attempts. As Alexander Hamilton Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederate States of America stated in his famous “Corner Stone” speech:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

Over 150 years later in 2014, Richard Spencer evoked Stephens when he wrote:

In his greatest address, “The Cornerstone of the Confederacy,” he did not speak (mendaciously) about “states rights” or any kind of Constitutional legality. He instead cut to the heart of the social order he was opposing. He stressed that the Confederacy was based on the conclusion that Thomas Jefferson was wrong; the “cornerstone” of the new state was the “physical, philosophical, and moral truth” of human inequality.

Ours, too, should be a declaration of difference and distance—”We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created unequal.” In the wake of the old world, this will be our proposition.

But while Confederate statues have been used in an attempt to re-solidify white control over Southern society post-Reconstruction, at the same time, as Little describes, the statues have also continuously been attacked during various uprisings, strikes, and revolts as symbols of both the past and current, racial order. This is a history that extends back decades from the LA Uprising, to the recent coming down of the statue by hundreds of people several months ago.

Lastly in our discussion, we talk about the role of the university itself in maintaining white supremacy and putting down potential insurgency, from their targeting of students and community members, to amassing resources towards the suppression of social movements.

More Info: Strike Down Sam on Twitter and Take Action Chapel Hill Defense Fund


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