Vandalism of On-Campus, Confederate-Era Memorials Sparks Conversations

In the past week, vandals have defaced Confederate-era landmarks on three separate college campuses in the South, renewing calls to address the history of segregation and racism.

At the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, someone covered the base of the “Silent Sam” memorial with “KKK,” “Murderer,” and “Black Lives Matter.” The statue, which was dedicated in 1913, memorializes UNC students who fought for the Confederacy between 1861 and 1865.

Students have often protested the site and the history it memorializes. One group, the Real Silent Sam — an equal-rights coalition of students, faculty, and community members — has lobbied for signage on the statue that would acknowledge the statue’s controversial link to the Confederacy.

Rick White, UNC associate vice chancellor of communication and public affairs, issued a statement following the incident, saying: “We understand that the issue of race and place is both emotional and, for many, painful. Carolina is working hard to ensure we have a thoughtful, respectful, and inclusive dialogue on the issue. … We welcome all points of view, but damaging or defacing statues is not the way to go about it.”

Clemson University, in South Carolina, is also dealing with vandalism. Following renewed calls last week by the university’s faculty senate to rename Tillman Hall, someone spray painted “Tillman was a violent racist” on the building.

Benjamin Tillman served as South Carolina’s governor from 1890 to 1894 and as a U.S. senator from 1895 to 1918. He was a vocal and well-known white supremacist and was present at the murder of African American state Sen. Simon Coker.

In February, Clemson’s graduate student government and faculty senate voted to rename the building, but the board of trustees rejected the request.

At Winthrop University last week — also in South Carolina — a painting of Tillman was vandalized with similar spray painted language. Last fall, two Winthrop alumni asked to have the hall renamed, but the university’s board of trustees said state law would not allow the change.

Some members of Winthrop’s board have said recently that they think it’s time to re-open discussions on renaming the building. However, the board will not meet again until the fall semester.