Maya Little’s Statement to the Court During Trial on October 15, 2018
When a white supremacist statue is protected by law, demanding dignity is illegal. When a university spends almost $400,000 to silence and conceal dissent, showing the truth is punished. I put my blood on Silent Sam because despite every machination to preserve and make pristine, our blood was always visible. Silent Sam represents a university built on Black anguish. He was a noose on a campus that was built by Black slave labor and sustained by a workforce without a living wage—a university that still forces its Black children to eat and live in buildings named for people who would have lynched them. It displays monuments to slaveholders and segregationists, but not one to the 21-year-old Black man murdered by a racist motorcycle gang on its grounds.
Sam has fallen. He did not bleed. But we have bled, and further, we have been forced to hide those wounds and clean that blood.
The Orange County court system must also reckon with the Black blood that stains it. This court has served to legitimize segregation and to defend the most murderous white supremacy. For countless Black and Brown families today, this court is a site of immense pain, separation, and fear.
In 1947, Bayard Rustin and the first freedom riders disobeyed the law by riding integrated on buses. The freedom riders were stopped in Chapel Hill. In the “Southern Part of Heaven,” the riders were pulled off the bus and threatened with burning and lynching until they fled to Greensboro. When they returned to face trial in Chapel Hill, the Orange County district attorney claimed that Chapel Hill’s negroes wanted Jim Crow and that the riders were outside agitators who deserved to be punished for their disobedience. In 1948, they appealed their sentence in Hillsborough, perhaps in this same courthouse. But their appeal was denied and they were sentenced to segregated chain gangs.
In 1973, an all-white Orange County jury acquitted the Stormtroopers gang, which had stabbed and murdered James Lewis Cates, a Black Chapel Hill resident and sit-in activist. Confronting this history, I ask: What faith can I have that these courts serve me, that racial justice and equality are the business of Orange County institutions and not just of us “outside agitators”?
Justice may not be found in this courthouse, but it can be found in the community we have built when the police, university, and laws failed us. There is justice in the banners we have hung, in the salves applied to students choking from pepper spray, in the hands we grab onto as police pull us away. I hold myself accountable to my community and to the struggle for our lives. Alongside them, I demand dignity, I demand life—no matter the legality.