Earlier this month, students at UNC-Chapel Hill installed a pair of memorials to victims of white supremacy.
The concept was brilliant: After 18
months of university administrators and the UNC Board of Governors arguing to
keep the inflammatory white supremacist monument known as Silent Sam because a
2015 law prohibits the removal of “any object of remembrance” from public
property, the students installed two finely rendered, informative and moving
memorials of their own. One commemorated James Lewis Cates, a 22-year-oldman stabbed to death in the Pit, the
main gathering place on campus, during an all-night dance party in November
1970 by members of the white supremacist motorcycle gang the Stormtroopers. The
other commemorated the “Negro Wench,” an unnamed black woman referenced by
industrialist Julian Carr in his speech dedicating Silent Sam in 1913. Carr
boasted, “One hundred yards from where we stand, less than 90 days perhaps
after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts
hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly
insulted and maligned a Southern lady, and then rushed for protection to these
university buildings where was stationed a garrison of 100 federal soldiers.”
The installations provided the
university an opportunity to demonstrate its legal commitment to preserving
objects of remembrance and to neo-Confederate hard-liners to prove that their devotion
to symbols of the Confederacy is motivated by a desire to honor the dead as
opposed to upholding glorifying white supremacy.
The memorial to Cates was the first
to go on Feb. 12, with the university citing its facilities use policy, “which
states no temporary structure shall be erected or placed on lawn space beneath
the drip line of trees,” according to The
Daily Tar Heel.
The “Negro Wench” memorial appeared
to be more secure, as it was placed on Franklin Street, on the property of the
town of Chapel Hill. But late in the night on Feb. 15, a group of
neo-Confederates hoisted it into the back a pickup truck and sped away.
The perpetrators of these two
desecrations could not have more perfectly reinforced the antiracist students’
charge that the university, as an extension of the state, and extremist
vigilantes are colluding to uphold white supremacy.
The neo-Confederates responsible for
the theft of the “Negro Wench” memorial and their allies didn’t try very hard
to cover their tracks or conceal their racism.
The evidence turned up in a series
of Facebook Live videos posted by Billy Helton, leader of a violent
neo-Confederate-militia hybrid outfit called the Hiwaymen based in Arkansas. On
the morning of Feb. 15, Frankie Harper — a member of Alamance County Taking
Back Alamance County, or ACTBAC — commented on Helton’s video: “I’ve been dealing
with the Chapel Hill police this morning on removing the plaque on Franklin
Street. I would like for all the people out here to call and demand that they
take it down, or I will myself.”
Later that day, in yet another
video, Harper commented again: “Billy, when you finish give me a call. Got a
good story for you. I made a promise and….”
By midnight, Helton was drinking
beer with a friend, Jonathan Addison, and hamming for a celebratory video
entitled, “Antifa lost their first monument UNC Chapel Hill.”
“I got a phone call tonight, guys,”
Helton announced. “You know those little plaques they got, that antifa at UNC
Chapel Hill put up? One of ’em’s in patriot possession!”
The comment thread under the video
showcases a spray of Harper’s self-satisfied statements, including this gem:
“It make my pecker hard [sic].”
Still, Helton played coy. “I’ll tell
you who that little birdie is one time,” he said. “That little birdie flies
around with a big ole CSA f***ing cavalry hat on.”
A diminutive man with craggy
features and a snow-white beard flowing down his chest, Harper is hard to
forget if you ever happen to lay eyes on him. And on Jan. 4, he updated his
Facebook profile with a new photo of himself sporting a gray cavalry hat
decorated with gold cord and a metal “CSA” ensign. Gotcha.
(As it turns out, the plaque was not
“in patriot possession”; an Orange County deputy intercepted Harper and
confiscated the plaque. Students reinstalled it on Wednesday.)
The North Carolina neo-Confederates
up in arms over the toppling of Silent Sam and their mid-South brethren are
mobilizing for simultaneous rallies on Saturday. While the North Carolina crew
is preparing for the six-hour “Heirs to the Confederacy Flag Raising at UNC
Chapel Hill,” Helton’s Hiwaymen and the allied Confederate 901 are holding a
“Mississippi Stands Rally” at the University of Mississippi at Oxford to
denounce calls to remove the Confederate monument there.
During the video, Helton showed off
a helmet he said he wore during the August 2017 Unite the Right rally in
Charlottesville and mocked Heather Heyer, the antiracist activist murdered by
James Fields Jr.
“Well, this is my Charlottesville
helmet, Kary,” he told his cousin. “Okay? This is like trigger time for the
left. Because I had this helmet on when we went into Charlottesville, Va. You
know the one that they put all over the news and tried to impeach Donald Trump
on, and some fat chick had a heart attack from eating too many McDonald burgers
and smoking Newports, and they blamed it on a Challenger running her over?
Yeah, well this is the helmet.”
In the two-hour video stream, Helton
managed to wedge in blatantly racist tropes about both Hurricane Katrina
survivors (“a bunch of mother***ers coming out of damn stores with TVs on their
heads and shit”) and indigenous people (“Trading your daughters off for
trinkets? Beating your women?”).
Members of Students Against Social
Injustice, a local chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops at University
of Mississippi, joined with faculty and staff to demand that administration
remove the Confederate statue in November, according to a report in Hotty
Toddy, a local news site.
On Tuesday, antiracist students and
faculty at Ole Miss began circulating a letter demanding that the university “cancel”
the Confederate rally amid threats by the neo-Confederates to bring firearms in
violation of university policy, while charging that the administration has
demonstrated a lack of transparency by failing to inform community members of a
plan to keep people safe.
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