A Confederate statue in the heart of North Carolina's flagship university was toppled Monday night during a rally by hundreds of protesters who decried the memorial known as "Silent Sam" as a symbol of racist heritage.

The bronze figure of a southern soldier atop a tall stone pedestal, erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1913, had been under constant police surveillance after being vandalized in recent months, costing the university hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Protesters appeared to outwit officers by splitting into two groups. Most marched away from the statue while a smaller group surrounded it with banners on bamboo poles, concealing efforts to tie a rope or cable around it. Then the groups converged and yanked it down, according to videos.

Once the bronze form was toppled, "Silent Sam's" face down in the dirt, demonstrators kicked it and cheered, chanting "Tar Heels!" and "Whose Campus? Our Campus!" as passing cars honked in approval. It was later covered by a tarp and then taken away.

Many students, faculty and alumni had called the statue a racist image and asked officials to take it down. Others argued that it should remain as a tribute to fallen ancestors. Protesters responded to the assertion that the statue wasn't a symbol of white power by reading from its 1913 dedication speech , by tobacco magnate Julian Carr, which praises Confederate veterans for terrorizing former slaves and making sure "the purest strain of the Anglo Saxon is to be found in the 13 Southern States."

University of North Carolina leaders including Chancellor Carol Folt had previously said state law prevented the school from removing it.