The town of Sylva has seen its share of vigils and marches following the death of George Floyd. The most recent over the weekend focused on the Confederate monument that overlooks downtown.
Traffic backed up along the detour route Saturday as two separate demonstrations set up – one seeking the removal of the statue of a Confederate soldier on the old Jackson County Courthouse steps, and the other wanting it to stay. Demonstrators who want the statue, known as "Sylva Sam," to keep its perch met in a parking lot behind the Old Courthouse.
That’s as close to the monument as the group could get. Orange cones and barriers blocked off the steps.
“Thank you everybody that is here!”
That’s Frank Huguelet, a former pro-wrestler who says he’s a sixth generation Jackson County resident.
“If you have an ancestor that is represented by our statue here please raise your hand,” asks Huguelet.
Almost everyone in the crowd of about 100 people raised their hands.
“See that’s why we’re here folks. This county is not about the last 20 years. This county is about over 150 years,” says Huguelet.
During the event, the group pledged allegiance to the American flag while the National Anthem played.
Mike Parris, “commander” of the Jackson Rangers - the local Sons of the Confederacy chapter - also spoke about his ancestors - who he says had one slave.
“We are in the Bible Belt of the United States. But that’s what they are after: The Bible. I’m not going to preach to you but that is what they are after. Then they destroy our country,” says Parris.
Parris repeated some of his statement from a recent county commissioners meeting, where he said the group will sue if the statue is taken down.
“As Son’s we are going to fight that. And they will take it down,” says Parris.
Reconcile Sylva, a new group focused on the removal of “Sylva Sam”, started its march a short time later. There were over 150 people in attendance. Fewer than at previous events.
You can hear music play.
Sylva resident Kelly Brown is a part of the collective organization. He identifies as Black.
“Reconcile Sylva’s mission is really to work together and it was brought about by this conversation around the statue,” says Brown.
Jackson County Commissioner Gayle Woody was invited to speak by Brown, and faced hecklers as she began…
“I want to say first of all that I represent all citizens of Jackson County,” says Woody.
“Even the racist bigots,” someone says.
“Those people who you might not agree with, have value as human beings as well,” continues Woody.
“Take the statue down,” says someone else.
An organizer asked the crowd to let her speak.
“Democracy means that we have a voice and we listen and I’m working very hard,” says Woody.
Woody presented a resolution to create a task force made up of citizens to decide the fate of Sylva Sam, but Brown believes it’s county leadership that must make the call.
“A leader makes the decisions. Is that what I’ve understood a leader does? Leaders make decisions. I’ve been in plenty of leadership roles and I’ve just made the decision. It’s not talking about it and providing lip service,” Brown told the crowd.
An activist and artist from the organization Different World wasn’t comfortable with sharing her name, but shared her story with the crowd of growing up as a black woman in Western North Carolina and receiving death threats - both as a child and now.
“When I was 14-years-old. That was the first year that Obama was inaugurated,” she says. “That day I walked into school and there were death notes taped on the outside of my locker. I was 14.”
Reconcile Sylva marched through the town.
“Hey Hey. Ho Ho. This racist statue’s got to go. Hey, Hey. Ho, Ho. This racist statue’s got to go.”
They ended the day by kneeling for the length of time that a police officer had his knee on George Floyd’s neck, ultimately killing him. While saying the names of Black people killed by the police across the country.
“This doesn’t even count all of the Black trans women and Black trans sex workers who get killed everyday and no one knows. This doesn’t include all the black people who get killed and they don’t write it down. They don’t make it a murder. They don’t investigate and no one finds out and no one knows their name and no one is looking for them,” says the speaker.
You can hear someone in the crowd say, “Everyday!”
Jackson County Commissioners are set to discuss Sylva Sam and the potential taskforce on Tuesday afternoon.