By Jonathan Drake
Chapel Hill, N.C. (Reuters) - Protesters toppled a statue of a Confederate soldier on the campus of University of North Carolina on Monday, the latest move to dismantle Civil War symbols amid a fierce debate about race and the legacy of slavery in the United States.
About 300 demonstrators gathered at the base of Silent Sam, a memorial to the Confederate soldiers killed during the Civil War, at about 7 p.m. (2300 GMT) to hold a protest and march. About two hours later, the statue, which had been standing on the Chapel Hill campus since 1913, was on the ground, local media reported.
Protesters pulled the statue with rope and threw dirt on it, local media reported. The statue was face down in the mud with dirt on the back of its head and its back, according to a Reuters eyewitness.
"Tonight's actions were dangerous, and we are very fortunate that no one was injured," the school said in a statement posted on Twitter. "We are investigating the vandalism and assessing the full extent of the damage."
The efforts by civil rights groups and others to do away with Confederate monuments such as Silent Sam gained momentum three years ago after avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine African-Americans at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The shooting rampage ultimately led to the removal of a Confederate flag from the statehouse in Columbia.
Since then, more than 110 symbols of the Confederacy have been removed across the nation with more than 1,700 still standing, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Many Americans see such statues as symbols of racism and glorifications of the southern states' defence of slavery in the Civil War, but others view them as important symbols of American history.
(Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)