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Sylva Protesters March In Solidarity With Black Lives Matter

Lilly Knoepp
Blue Ridge Public Radio
Local Nicole Newman spoke to the protesters as the march ended at Bridge Park.

 A group of mostly students from Western Carolina University led a peaceful protest Tuesday afternoon in downtown Sylva.

Over a hundred people gathered at the old Jackson County courthouse steps calling for justice for George Floyd and protesting against racism. Organizers say that there were about 300 people. 

You can hear the crowd chanting, “Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter…” 

Local business owner Natalie Newman spoke to the group over a megaphone. 

“To see this many people in this place that I call home. To show up to support for what we are here for today means so much,” says Newman, who is African American. 

Newman, was invited to speak by Down Home organizers and Western Carolina junior Carrie Huss who organized the event on Facebook. 

 Huss says she thinks it’s important to have an event like this in a small town that is predominantly white. She explained it this way to the crowd near the fountain at the start of the event: 

“We want to make a stand and we want to let our voices be heard. And we want to make this be an example to show everybody what we are here for. We want to show that black lives matter,’ says Huss, who is studying social work.

Western Carolina student Donovan Spencer also spoke to the crowd over the megaphone. He’s from Charlotte. 

“I’m proud to be here and I’m proud to have this movement and to spread the love that we have within our people,” says Spencer, who stepped up after a speaker welcomed any people of color in the crowd to the mic.

Sylva native Megan Eckstein is also a Western Carolina student. She says she was glad to see ‘black lives matter’ being supported in her town. 

“Growing up we never really have a lot of protests here so it’s great to be a part of something that is hopefully going to change you know,” says Eckstein. 

Newman also attended Sunday’s vigil in Sylva. She says this march was even bigger and both have meant a lot to her personally. Newman ran for town council in November. 

“This sort of thing has been a light in a lot of darkness for me at least,” says Newman. 

Just like at the vigil, a group of about 20 men stood around the confederate statue above the march. The group identified themselves as a Sons of Confederate Veteran’s group called the Jackson Rangers. Leader MikeJames Parris says there are about 300 members across Western North Carolina. 

Everyone BPR spoke with said that they were glad that the protest remained peaceful. The event ended at Bridge Park in Sylva.


Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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