Two middle-of-the-night acts of vandalism against art objects on March 31 — including the Unsung Founders Memorial on McCorkle Place — were “racist actions,” said Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz in a message to the campus community.
Two arrests have been made in the incidents.
“At approximately 1:30 a.m. [March 31], two individuals defaced the Unsung Founders Memorial, writing racist and other deplorable language on it,” Guskiewicz wrote. “University Police contacted the facilities department, and the Memorial was cleaned. In addition, University Police discovered that an installation outside Hanes Art Center was also vandalized with hateful language and racial slurs today. Both incidents are being investigated.”
On Monday, UNC police arrested Ryan Francis Barnett, 31, of Sanford; and Nancy Rushton McCorkle, 50, of Newberry, S.C. Barnett was charged with vandalism, ethnic intimidation and public urination. McCorkle was charged with vandalism and ethnic intimidation.
A criminal summons also was issued to both for the theft of a flag from atop the Spangler Building, headquarters of the UNC System on U.S. 54 near the campus, on that date. Both have received a warning of trespass from UNC Campus Police.
Both are to appear in court in Hillsborough this month.
The Unsung Founders, a sculpture in McCorkle Place near Graham Memorial and Alumni Hall, is the class gift from UNC’s class of 2002 and was installed in May 2005. It is dedicated to the people, enslaved and free, who labored to build the foundations of the University. It is a short distance from where the Confederate monument Silent Sam stood.
Guskiewicz wrote that one of the people sought by police “is known to be affiliated with the Heirs to the Confederacy,” a pro-Confederacy group. Those who wanted the Confederate statue removed from the campus and those who support it have clashed numerous times, sometimes violently.
In a statement to The Herald-Sun on April 1 and carried in other area media, the head of Heirs to the Confederacy, K. Lance Spivey, said his group would not support the desecration of monuments. “Neither myself nor the Board of Directors ever has or ever would sanction such an act; it goes against everything we stand for,” Spivey wrote. “If these acts of vandalism were in fact committed by any member(s) of Heirs, then the perpetrator(s) were acting on their own, in a renegade capacity and unsanctioned by the Board of Directors.”
The Confederate statue was pulled down by protesters in August 2018, and then-Chancellor Carol L. Folt ordered its pedestal removed as she announced her resignation in January. Members of the UNC System Board of Governors and the UNC trustees are deciding Silent Sam’s fate, with what is now a May deadline.
The police report said the March 31 incident involved “weapon/tools” but did not elaborate. The McCorkle Place report said $200 in damage was done to the granite table that is part of the Unsung Founders; a second report said damage to the artwork at Hanes Art totaled $150. Damage to the flag was listed at $585.
On March 22, Guskiewicz notified the campus community that as Confederate supporters walked through campus on March 16, one was found to be in possession of a handgun. Police asked the man to leave the campus and warned him that in the future “those found with a weapon on campus will be arrested and issued a warning of trespass.”
Barnett and McCorkle were not armed on March 31, according to police.
In the latest incident, the person referred to as a Confederate supporter was identified on surveillance tape.
The University has surveillance cameras on McCorkle Place and a regular police presence there, according to police spokesperson Randy Young. Young said barricades previously removed from around the Unsung Founders have been put back to deter such incidents.
The March 31 incident in McCorkle was seen by a police officer, and the Hanes incident was reported by a passing motorist. Police said they would not release details “that could impede that investigation or subsequent prosecution,” including the content of graffiti.
Following the gun incident on March 16, Guskiewicz wrote that he would convene a campus safety commission “to take a broader look at all aspects of community safety, including building relationships with campus police. Composed of students, faculty and staff, this group will engage in dialogue, foster trust, enhance our collective good and advise me of their recommendations. I will announce the members of this commission and further outline their charge within the next month.”
Guskiewicz said he also would meet with campus groups “to hear directly how the community envisions our work to eliminate racism and inequality while promoting equity and inclusion on campus.”
He said he had initiated a review of the March 16 incident.