Blood on the Confederate Monument

Update: More from Maya Little on why she vandalized the Confederate monument on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus with her own blood.

Earlier this week Maya Little, a PhD student in the history program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was arrested for defacing the controversial Silent Sam monument. After spending a few hours in jail she answered a couple of questions for The Chronicle of Higher Education.

I was particularly struck by her understanding of the need for historical context for this particular monument. Little’s approach undercuts or at least challenges what many in the field of public history understand as historical context. For most people this takes the form of a marker explaining the historical context in which the monument was constructed and dedicated. This is not Little’s understanding:

Q. Why did you take the action you did yesterday?

A. The fact that Silent Sam stands there — uncontextualized, glorified, without our blood on him — needed to change. Adding blood to the statue is adding proper context. Because that’s what the Confederacy was built on. It was built on the blood of black people. That’s what Jim Crow was built on.

Q. Speaking of contextualization, some people I spoke with for my December story on Silent Sam floated the idea of a marker or plaque to contextualize the monument. But to many activists, that’s not a long-term solution.

A. My blood and the red ink symbolizing the blood of black people is context. To me, that’s the context for Silent Sam. The university doesn’t want that context.

Little’s responses are a reminder of the limitations of the form of historical context understood by most public historians. I have written about this before. While there is nothing problematic about providing visitors with information about the history of the monument, it is rarely perceived as a solution by those who are the most engaged on both sides.

Maya Little offers an important reminder that these monuments can never be understood simply as artifacts of the past.

9 comments… add one
  • Louis Drew May 2, 2018

    God bless you, Maya Little

  • Msb May 2, 2018

    Well, she certainly added context.

  • gcamacholight May 2, 2018

    Praise to Maya Little!

  • Boyd Harris May 2, 2018

    A friend of mine, who was also a grad student in the UNC history department, posted several tweets today about the long history of painting Silent Sam. Throughout the 20th century nobody at UNC had a problem with the statue being covered in red paint, as long as it was done by NC State fans after a big game. UNC-Greensboro and Duke students also used to dump paint on the statue, with one newspaper in the 1970s quoting the UNC janitorial services describing how they have to clean the statue after every home game. No arrests were ever recorded with these incidents, including during the 1982 UNC championship celebrations when the statue was covered in blue paint.

    Just surprising (but not really) how different a response something gets when it is not judged automatically by a community as “boys being boys.”

    • Kevin Levin May 2, 2018

      I saw that as well. It definitely helps to place these recent acts within a larger narrative of protest on campus.

  • Rob Baker May 3, 2018

    Thank you for calling attention to this. I did not see this powerful protest contextualization on any of my social media threads yesterday or today.

    I have not recently come across such a profound collision of history, protest, and art. Historical context indeed.

  • Karen May 21, 2018

    EPIC

  • Jim Bob Lassiter May 22, 2018

    This creature couldn’t write a short coherent History entry on any subject for publication in a set of cheap grocery store encyclopedias.

    • Kevin Levin May 23, 2018

      I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Jim. 🙂

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