CHAPEL HILL, NC—Meg Yarnell, the great-great-great-granddaughter of Julian Carr, is calling for academic and criminal charges to be dropped against Maya Little and other anti-racist activists who have been arrested for protests related to the Confederate monument known as Silent Sam. In an open letter to University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill administrators, including Chancellor Carol Folt, Yarnell notes that she is “grateful for what Maya did to contextualize this statue and advance the cause for its removal.”
In the weeks and months following the toppling of Silent Sam on August 20, Carr’s speech at the statue’s 1913 dedication ceremony has been widely recirculated. It offers unvarnished proof of the motivations behind the statue’s placement on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus and Silent Sam’s connection to historic and ongoing campaigns of anti-black racism and terror. Carr bragged in his oration that he had once “horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds” near the site of the statue, and tacitly thanked the Ku Klux Klan for committing racist violence against blacks during Reconstruction in the name of the “the Anglo Saxon race in the South.”
On Monday morning, Little’s case again heads to court. The UNC graduate student and anti-racist activist faces up to 60 days in jail for protesting Silent Sam by dousing the statue in a mixture of red paint and her own blood. Additionally, more than two dozen anti-racist activists have been arrested while protesting against neo-Confederates on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus since Silent Sam came down.
The text of Yarnell’s letter, in its entirety, is below:
An Open Letter to the UNC Administration
I write to you, as the great, great, great granddaughter of Julian S. Carr, to advocate that UNC drop the Honor Court and criminal charges against Maya Little and the antiracist activists arrested protesting the Confederate monument known as Silent Sam. Considering the legacy of my great, great, great grandfather, who was instrumental in erecting Silent Sam and infamously dedicated the statue by celebrating the purity of the Anglo-Saxon race and the time that he “whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds,” I am grateful for what Maya did to contextualize this statue and advance the cause for its removal.
My family can trace our lineage in the United States back to early America and the shameful time when our ancestors owned slaves, a time when it was perfectly acceptable, even enviable, for one man and his kin to become rich off the unpaid labor, industry, and suffering of hundreds of men, women and children.
My great, great, great grandfather Julian Carr fought in the Civil War on the side of the Confederacy, which explicitly dedicated itself to keeping this system of slavery alive. Yes, he loved his family and parts of the community in which he lived, but we must recognize that Julian was a white supremacist whose vitriolic speech and actions resulted in the pain and suffering of many.
As a white person, and descendant of Julian Carr, I cannot remain silent. Our silence as white people is complicity with white supremacy and has created a very painful world. It is a horrifying necessity to confront the reality that my ancestors participated in such shameful things, and I want to express my sorrow and deepest apologies for the profound suffering, trauma and inequality caused by the actions of my ancestors, including Julian Carr. However, apologies are not enough. Action is needed to help right these historic wrongs.
As Frederick Douglass said during an 1881 speech, “Slavery is indeed gone, but its long, black shadow yet falls broad and large over the face of the whole country.” This continues to be true today.
The founding of our country is circumscribed by multiple traumas of oppression and violence—slavery of Black people and genocide of First Nations peoples among them. As a nation we have failed to truly understand, acknowledge, mourn, and make reparations for our country’s violent origins.
This untreated wound is why it is so difficult to talk about race and culture in America. It is one of the reasons we do not make meaningful headway on so many of society’s problems such as poverty, institutional racism, police brutality, the prison industrial complex, and health inequality. It is why we continue to hold onto racist and damaging memorials such as the one torn down at UNC.
By our “founding fathers’” design, white people have benefitted and continue to benefit from slavery and its contemporary semblances. As white people, we need to confront our past and take responsibility for creating real socioeconomic and racial equity and justice today. For one, we need to use the privilege history has afforded us to speak the truth and remove Confederate monuments like Silent Sam, which only serve to celebrate our nation’s ugly past and present. We should applaud the actions of Maya Little and other antiracist activists, many of whom are people of color, for putting themselves at risk to improve our communities.
Maya’s action in April 2018 was a courageous act of civil disobedience and an attempt to ameliorate the harm that white people have done. She generated thoughtful discussion around issues of white supremacy at her own expense. Those that participated in the actions against the statue in August and early September also sought to turn the tides on campus to discussions of racial inclusion and social justice. I stand proudly with them.
UNC is in a unique position at this moment in time. Silent Sam has been removed. In its absence, the university can reimagine the commemorative landscape to represent the community’s highest values. UNC can create a campus that is welcoming for all and in the spirit of its mission to serve as a center for research, scholarship, and creativity for a diverse community of undergraduate, graduate, and professional students to become the next generation of leaders.
Maya Little, as well as those involved in removing and protesting the statue, are some of these leaders. It would be another wound to silence or make invisible (or worse, violently eradicate) their actions, which have put UNC’s community and our nation in a greater place to collectively heal.