Nancy Rushton McCorkle, 50, and Ryan Francis Barnett, 31, are accused of vandalizing UNC's Unsung Founders Memorial on the morning of March 31.
UNC-Chapel Hill Police Department
Nancy Rushton McCorkle, 50, and Ryan Francis Barnett, 31, are accused of vandalizing UNC's Unsung Founders Memorial on the morning of March 31.
CNN —  

A man and a woman were arrested this week on suspicion of vandalizing a University of North Carolina memorial that is dedicated to slaves and other African-Americans who helped build the university.

Ryan Francis Barnett, 31, and Nancy Rushton McCorkle, 50, were arrested Monday by UNC police, accused of vandalizing the Unsung Founders Memorial on the early morning of March 31 on the Chapel Hill campus, the school said.

The memorial was defaced with “racist and other deplorable language,” interim Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz said in a message posted on the university’s website. The memorial has since been cleaned, he said.

Barnett also is accused of vandalizing an outdoor art installment near the university’s Hanes Art Center, police said. It was defaced with “hateful language and racial slurs,” Guskiewicz said.

“The majority of the defacement was graffiti,” Randy B. Young, UNC’s media relations manager, told CNN in an email.

The vandalism comes during a school year in which a separate statute on campus – a Confederate monument called “Silent Sam” – was toppled by protesters.

Barnett, of Sanford, North Carolina, and McCorkle, of Newberry, South Carolina, were arrested on initial charges of vandalism and ethnic intimidation, UNC police arrest reports say. Barnett also faced a preliminary charge of public urination, the reports say.

The arrest reports do not say how Barnett and McCorkle came to be suspects in the Unsung Founders Memorial vandalism. Police investigating the incident had been reviewing surveillance footage, CNN affiliate WRAL reported.

CNN’s attempts to reach Barnett and McCorkle for comment weren’t immediately successful. Barnett is scheduled to appear in court on April 22, and McCorkle is scheduled to appear on April 25, according to arrest reports.

The Unsung Founders Memorial, a gift from the class of 2002, has as its base sculptures of men and women with arms raised, essentially holding up the rest of the piece.

The Unsung Founders Memorial, shown on the University of North Carolina's Chapel Hill campus in an undated photo before the March 31 vandalism.
University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
The Unsung Founders Memorial, shown on the University of North Carolina's Chapel Hill campus in an undated photo before the March 31 vandalism.

Its inscription reads: “The Class of 2002 honors the University’s unsung founders – the people of color bond and free – who helped build the Carolina that we cherish today.”

The school says the Unsung Founders Memorial is meant to be a counterpoint to the “Silent Sam” Confederate memorial, which made its own headlines in the past few months.

Protesters knocked over the Silent Sam statue in August, amid a larger national conversation about the purpose of and need for Confederate monuments.

The statue was not returned to its original spot, and in January, the university removed the rest of the Confederate monument, taking its base and commemorative plaques to an undisclosed location. The university chancellor at the time said the monument’s presence was too controversial and caused too much disruption.

Silent Sam is the nickname of the statue of a Confederate soldier, which was erected at the request of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. It was dedicated in 1913 to remember the “sons of the university who died for their beloved Southland 1861-1865,” UNC’s website says.

The university system’s board of governors has given the Chapel Hill campus until May to decide what to do with the Silent Sam statue, the News & Observer newspaper in Raleigh reported last month. That deadline came after the board in December rejected a proposal to build a $5.3 million home for the Confederate monument.

CNN’s Amir Vera contributed to this report.