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Sylva Board Votes To Remove Confederate Monument, Now County Commissioners Decide

Lilly Knoepp
Blue Ridge Public Radio
The Confederate Monument stands in front of the Old Jackson County Courthouse which is now the Jackson County Public Library Complex.

Sylva commissioners voted to remove a Confederate monument from the town this week. However, that’s far from the end of the story.

The decision doesn’t actually remove the monument.  Only Jackson County commissioners can do that since the monument is on county property.  So the board asked that the statue be removed from the town limits.

Sylva leaders had to reschedule their vote Monday after their last meeting was the target of a ‘Zoom-bombing’ full of racist speech.

Commissioner David Nestler addressed that before he brought up the resolution for removing ‘Sylva Sam’ from its perch in front of the old Jackson County courthouse. 

“Now I’m not saying that these people who disrupted our meeting were locals, because we have no evidence that was the case but that’s irrelevant because this was an act of racism that happened in our community,” says Nestler, who added the meeting is public record. 

Commissioner Barbara Hamilton said that she has never seen so much hate in this community. 


“And I did not just say that, ‘Only Blue Lives Matter.’ I said, ‘Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter - All Lives Matter,’” says Hamiton. “So now you might know who I am.”


For a more secure Zoom call, the public meeting was broadcast on Facebook Live.Throughout the meeting, Jackson County residents argued in the live comment feed about racism and what should be done about the monument. There are over 1,000 comments on the video. At least two of the town commissioner's personal addresses seemed to be listed in the comments.

During the public comment period, residents called in from both sides of the issue. Much of the discussion was still rooted in basic disagreements about the Civil War and what the monuments represent.  

Suzanne Saucier spoke in favor of the removal.

“This idea that there are whole areas that were not fighting about slavery is a complete and total myth that was perpetuated after the Confederacy lost,” says Saucier. 

Frank Huguelet says the monument needs to stay. 

“This is like a tombstone for us, this is representative of my great great grandfather and the great great grandfathers of a lot of Jackson County citizens,” says Huguelet, who has started the Jackson County Unity Coalition to keep the monument. 

The majority of the public commenters spoke in favor of the statue's removal including members of Reconcile Sylva, a group formed in part to remove the monument. Hughelet was the only person who spoke in favor of the monument. One other Sylva resident spoke about possible compromises. 

The board’s resolution passed 3-2. Commissioners Greg McPherson, David Nestler and Ben Guiney voted for the removal whileCommissioners Mary Gelbaugh and Barbara Hamilton voted against the motion. 

Jackson County Commissioners meet next Tuesday August 4 to weigh in on the matter. 


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.