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Jackson County Residents Continue Confederate Monument Discussion

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.

Sixteen people spoke during the Jackson County Commissioners public comment period on Tuesday night about the Confederate soldier statue which stands in the middle of the old Courthouse steps. 


The county commissioners are set to discuss creating a task force to decide the monument's fate at their July 14 work session. Many who spoke say they would consider a taskforce a step in the wrong direction. 


“This stops right here. No more,” says Mike Parris, who identified himself as the commander of the Jackson Rangers, a Sons of Confederate Veterans group. Parris explained that if the county tries to remove the statue that the group will sue them. 


“We will tie you up in lawsuits for 20 years, 30 years, whatever it takes. We will drain every nickel out of this county. I don’t want that. You don’t want that,” says Parris. 


More residents spoke at the meeting in favor of the monument than those who believed that it should be removed. At thelast commissioners meeting, there were almost no public comments in support of the monument. 


A number of Jackson County residents who spoke in favor of the monument talked about their ancestors who fought in the Civil War for the Confederacy. 


Frank Huguelet, better known by his wrestling name “Heavy Metal Ric Savage,” says six of his ancestors fought in the Civil War. He says that the relatives of his childhood friends in Jackson County fought in the same company and regiment with his family. 

“They put up that statue to honor their great grandparents who risked their lives for this county,” says Huguelet, referring to the people of Jackson County who erected the soldier. "It's not a vote for hate."


Lianna Costantino also evoked her ancestors in her comments. She identified herself as a Jackson resident and a member of the Cherokee Nation. Costantino says her ancestors were on the Trail of Tears and that others were members of the Confederate Army. 


“For anyone who says that if I’m not happy with Confederate symbols then I should go back to where I came from, I would say that everyone who is not native is living on stolen land,” says Costantino, who spoke for the removal of the statue. 


A few Jackson County officials also spoke during the comment period. Former Jackson County Sheriff Jimmy Ashe spoke in favor of keeping the statue. 


“I think history will be served better by allowing it to be presented as it has been for over 100 years,” says Ashe. 

Sylva Town Commissioner David Nestler spoke against the statue in his capacity as a Jackson County resident and said that he will be introducing a resolution to ask the county to relocate the statue outside of the Sylva city limits. 

“When a significant number of the people you represent in your town are hurt by something - you fix it,” says Nestler. 

The next town board of commissioners meeting is at 9 a.m. on July 8.

A new group called Reconcile Sylva has organized an event on Saturday July 11 at 1 p.m. to discuss the future of the monument at Bridge Park.  The group defines themselves as a coalition focused on unifying the community and removing the "Sylva Sam" monument.  A counterprotest group has also announced similar plans for Saturday on social media. At previous Black Lives Matter events in Sylva, a group has gathered around the Confederate monument or at near the Jackson County Library.

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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