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Jackson County Will Discuss Confederate Monument Again In July

Lilly Knoepp
Blue Ridge Public Radio
The statue known as Sylva Sam stands at the old courthouse which is now the Jackson County Public Library Complex.

Jackson County commissioners will discuss the future of the statue of a Confederate soldier on the old courthouse steps in Sylva next month.  

Commissioners held a meeting on Tuesday which included a conversation about “diversity and inclusion” which centered around the statue which stands on the old courthouse steps. About ten people spoke during public comment in support of the statue's removal at the afternoon meeting. 

One resident was Christina Sutton, who identified herself as an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. 

“My young daughter has been bullied and called the N-word multiple times in our school system,” says Sutton. 

Sutton explained that her husband is black and that her daughter is mixed race and she believes that the statue represents white supremacy in Jackson County. 

“We have a long way to go for racial equality in Jackson County but it starts by taking a stand for what’s right," says Sutton. "That doesn’t require a taskforce or $50,000. The time to act is now.  So I ask again, who are the commissioners that represent us and where do your values align?” 

At a previous meeting, Commissioner Ron Mau (R) put forward a budget proposal for a $50,000 taskforce to study what should be done with the Confederate statue, which sits on county-owned land. This proposal along with others were recommended for the budget. Mau also put forward a motion to fund all nonprofits as requested.

Ultimately, no new changes were made to the county’s final budget which passed 3-2. 

Commissioner Gayle Woody (D) proposed a task force led by Chairman Brian McMahan and including the Sons of Confederate Veterans, black residents of Jackson County, the Jackson County Historical Association and other local officials to decide the statue’s fate. 

“I believe the time has come to address the monument. I do not believe it is fair to our citizens and grandchildren to face this issue year after year. It has come up before and it will come up again if we don’t take responsibility to do the hard work to find a resolution,” says Woody in the commissioner's meeting via Zoom. 

Other commissioners said that exactly who should lead and be a part of this taskforce should be discussed at length. The discussion was added to the agenda for the county commissioner’s work session on July 14. There will not be a public comment period during the session. 

Other western North Carolina counties are dealing with similar issues, including Haywood County’s current discussion of where to place lynching monument from the Equal Justice Initative.

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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