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‘Sylva Sam’ Stays, Social Media Sparks Protests From Both Sides

Lilly Knoepp
Local law enforcement blocked off the steps at the old Jackson County Courthouse and set up cones around the bottoms of the steps just as they have for many recent protests.

Jackson County Commissioners voted on Tuesday night to keep the county’s Confederate monument in its place. But the conversation over Sylva Sam is far from over, as evidenced by what happened during and immediately after the vote.

The discussion over removing Sylva Sam from its perch in front of the old county courthouse created at least two new groups - Reconcile Sylva and the Jackson County Unity Coalition.  Both are mostly based on Facebook.  

Many members attended Tuesday’s commissioners meeting which was both virtual and in-person. 

Reconcile Sylva member Natalie Newman called in to ask commissioners to remove the statue. Newman said she was concerned about her safety: 

“I am not kidding, when I say that I am standing here on the steps of the (old) Jackson County courthouse and the Sheriff is here and the police are on their way,” says Newman.

Soon people from both sides who were watching the meeting flocked to the monument, where Newman was.

Calls to head to the statue were  also posted across Facebook. Some said they heard the statue was under attack, while others heard protesters who wanted the statue to be removed were being threatened.

Josh Marks was one of the counter-protesters who spoke with Newman before the police arrived. He says that they did exchange words in part because of posters set on the statue.

“They thought that I was being aggressive. All I did was come and sit down,” says Marks.  

Newman says Marks used racial slurs.  

The county commissioners were still meeting at this point, as Facebook Live posts documented the scene at the monument.  

“You can hear the Reconcile side chanting: “This is what Democracy looks like.” While a few men at the top of the steps sing, “Dixie.”

Supporters of keeping Sylva Sam in place, many of whom are part of the Jackson County Unity Coalition, were asked to relocate the top of the steps. 

As the commissioners voted not to relocate the statue, Reconcile Sylva protesters were asked to move to the bottom of the steps for safety reasons.

“Do you have a concern, do you have a concern for our safety?” one woman asks local law enforcement. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt,” he responds. “So you are asking us to move for public safety reasons,” says another woman.  

While the monument isn’t going anywhere, the Confederate flag on its base will be removed along with lettering ‘Our Heroes of the Confederacy.’ In its place there will be a historical plaque explaining Jackson County’s role in the Civil War. 

The vote was 4-1.

Over 200 people turned out for both sides throughout the evening. Reconcile Sylva protesters left the foundation around 11 p.m. but have vowed to continue demonstrating until the monument is removed.

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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