CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – A Confederate statue in the heart of North Carolina's flagship university was toppled Monday night during a rally by hundreds of protesters who decried the memorial known as "Silent Sam" as a symbol of racist heritage.
The crowd gathered across the street from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill plaza for a series of speakers at 7 p.m. before heading over to the quadrangle. Then, about two hours into the protest, a group surrounded the statue and pulled it down, according to television footage. Once it was on the ground, demonstrators kicked it and cheered.
A half-hour after it was pulled down, a crowd of dozens remained standing around the empty pedestal. The crowd chanted "Tar Heels!" and "Whose Campus? Our Campus!" Cars honked as they passed nearby on the college town's main drag.
Many students, faculty and alumni have called the statue a racist image and asked officials to remove it, though some argued it was a tribute to fallen ancestors. UNC leaders including Chancellor Carol Folt had previously said state law prevented the school from removing the statue.
Word that the statue had fallen drew curious students out.
"I heard the statue had come down, so I had to see it myself," said freshman Manuel Ricardo, who arrived after the statue was on the ground.
The site of the empty pedestal "is pretty breathtaking," said Ricardo, who's African American. "I think most people here are happy. I'm ecstatic."
Shortly after 10 p.m., a dozen officers were surrounding the fallen statue, which was eventually covered with a tarp next to its empty pedestal.
Junior Ian Goodson said he came out after he heard the statue fell because he wanted to see history.
"It's a significant event for UNC," he said.
He said that while he doesn't agree with what the Confederacy stood for, he understands that some saw the statue as an important memorial.
Asked whether he's glad the statue came down, he said: "I was always kind of torn."