Jackson County

Lilly Knoepp

If you drive through downtown Sylva, you might see a new mural. The mural is the opening act for the town’s first Pride parade.

On the side of an antique shop in downtown Sylva, the message on the rainbow mural now says “You Belong Here.”

“Sarah always  helps me now with my design projects these days. She has a great eye.”

Lilly Knoepp

Sylva Town Commissioners voted Thursday to reject plans to update the base of Jackson County’s Confederate monument.  ‘Sylva Sam’ sits outside the historic Jackson County courthouse, and county commissioners approved a plan to cover the Confederate Flag on the monument’s base and highlight its 1996 rededication to “veterans of all wars.” The phase, “Our Heroes of the Confederacy will also be covered.

Sylva Town Commissioners have wanted it removed since 2020, which they affirmed with a 3-2 vote again Thursday.  Commissioner Ben Guiney presented the resolution: 

Lilly Knoepp/BPR News

Jackson County Commissioners voted last night to move forward with plans to update the Confederate monument, known as 'Sylva Sam', who sits below the Jackson County Public Library Complex.

County Manager Don Adams shared that the plaque to cover the current Confederate flag on the monument will cost about $14,000 including installation. AOA signs in Yadkinville provided the estimate. 

Lilly Knoepp

Eight months ago, Jackson County Commissioners voted to keep the county’s Confederate monument in Sylva – but with some historical context added to it.   BPR reports on the first glimpse of what the changes will look like:

Melissa McKnight/Jackson Public Health

Rural counties in Western North Carolina are vaccinating first responders.  BPR went to a mass COVID-19 vaccination in Jackson County.

A cold wind blows outside the Jackson County Recreation Center in Cullowhee. But it hasn’t stopped officers, firefighters and first responders from lining up to receive their COVID-19 vaccines.

“There’s actually been a good turn out. It was actually real smooth once we got in line.”  

That’s Kent Davis, a deputy with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office.  He’s worked in law enforcement for more than 35 years.

Lilly Knoepp

The base Jackson County’s Confederate monument has been covered.

Courtesy of Ben Guiney

Jackson County is one of six jurisdictions in Western North Carolina now considered to have ‘critical’ community spread of coronavirus, the highest such classification from the state.  BPR talked to a doctor who was recently in quarantine with COVID-19:

Dr. Ben Guiney tested positive for COVID-19 on November 28th.  He’s not sure if he got COVID working at Harris Regional Hospital or not. During his isolation, Guiney was separated from his family by his bedroom door.

Fighting For Attention

Oct 28, 2020
Cory Vaillancourt

They’ve been fighting over your attention on the internet and the television for what seems like forever now.

They’ve got their slogans and catch phrases, their soundtracks and color schemes, their gimmicks and gags, their die-hards and their haters.

Yes, professional wrestlers.

If you thought we were talking about politicians, you’re right too. The worlds of politics and professional wrestling collide, more often than you think.

Nate Hadley/WCJ

More than 1 million North Carolinians have voted during the first five days of early voting in the state.  That’s more than 14 percent of all registered voters in the state.

BPR checked in on the early voting site on campus of Western Carolina University in Cullowhee:

Lilly Knoepp

It’s been two months since Jackson County Commissioners voted not to relocate Sylva Sam.  However, anger about the statue remains. 

Sylva Sam still stands on its perch in front of the old Jackson County courthouse, though it is fenced in now.  Down the steps on Main Street, “Black Lives Matter” is routinely drawn in chalk on the sidewalks.

Photo courtesy of TWASA

The struggle to get the most updated information on the spread of COVID-19 in a community has been crucial for local and national government decision-making. Here’s the unlikely source of data for a Jackson County project that hopes to increase the speed of information.

COVID-19 testing delays and asymptomatic carriers have contributed to a slower understanding of how many people in a community have the virus.

“Our goal here is to really give public health officials an early warning for what’s happening in the community.”

Holly Kays / Smoky Mountain News

Even with the pandemic, mass outdoor gatherings in support of various causes have become a common occurrence across Western North Carolina.  Dangerous weapons are prohibited at ‘demonstrations.’  But the definition of a ‘demonstration’ is open to interpretation, even among law enforcement. 

 At the end of August, the Armed Patriots, a group based in Bryson City gathered on Main Street in Sylva.  

“It wasn’t really an event. We just went out and expressed our Second Amendment rights.” 

Photo courtesy of Reconcile Sylva

“Black Lives Matter, Confederate Statues Don’t,” proclaims one of the new billboards located in the Savannah on U.S. 441. These billboards are the next move in the current discussion around the county's Confederate statue, known as "Sylva Sam."

Reconcile Sylva, the Jackson County group which wants to remove the county's Confederate monument, says in a press release that the billboards are "intended to bring attention to both the monument and the need for the community to address racism."

Lilly Knoepp

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. 

Courtesy of U.S. Census

Right now only about 30 percent of Jackson and Swain Counties have responded to the U.S. Census. Statewide almost 60 percent of North Carolians have already responded to the census. 

“Western North Carolina has historically been undercounted in the Census and 2020 is no exception,” said Jackie Simms, chair of the programs and grants committee at Dogwood Health Trust in a press release. 

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

The Town of Sylva board of commissioners met this morning - in part to discuss the removal of the county’s Confederate monument. However the meeting was cut short after being “zoom bombed.”

 

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Jackson County Commissioners did not to move forward with creating a task force to discuss the fate of a Confederate statue in Sylva.  

At a Tuesday work session, all commissioners could agree on was that something should be done to improve the context of the statue known as “Sylva Sam,” which sits on the steps of the old Jackson County courthouse.

There is a movement to remove the statue, and another group who wants to keep the statue. 

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

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.

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

The Town of Sylva Board of Commissioners passed a resolution on Thursday to prohibit Confederate imagery on town vehicles and property. Currently, the old Jackson County Courthouse including the Confederate soldier statue which stands in front of the building, is featured on town vehicles and Sylva Police badges. 

 

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

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. 

 

NC DOT

NCDOT has announced a big change in construction plans to build a new bridge in the town of Dillsboro. 

Officials plan to close down Haywood Road (U.S. 23 Business) for nine months instead of building a temporary bridge. This will shave about 2 years and $3 million dollars off of the project, according to Div 14 Construction Engineer Ted Adams. 

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

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. 

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Protests in the rural towns of Western North Carolina for racial justice are growing into a movement.

 Molly Haithcock, 24 and Erykah Lasha, 22, didn’t know each other until a few weeks ago even though both went to Franklin High School. Haithcock, who identifies as a black woman, says she was sickened by the killing of George Floyd and wanted to do something - anything: 

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Two demonstrations this week in Sylva remained peaceful. But rumors continue to swirl that weapons were present at each. BPR spoke with Sylva’s Police Chief: 

 

Police chief Chris Hatton says rumors are rampant right now. 

 

“I have been on rumor patrol for three days,” says Hatton. 

 

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

 A group of mostly students from Western Carolina University led a peaceful protest Tuesday afternoon in downtown Sylva.

Over a hundred people gathered at the old Jackson County courthouse steps calling for justice for George Floyd and protesting against racism. Organizers say that there were about 300 people. 

You can hear the crowd chanting, “Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter…” 

Local business owner Natalie Newman spoke to the group over a megaphone. 

Lilly Knoepp

Protests ignited in cities large and small across North Carolina this weekend over the death of George Floyd.  BPR was at a vigil in Sylva.

A large crowd gathered at the bottom of the Jackson County Courthouse steps for a candlelight vigil around the fountain on Sunday evening. The event was organized by the local NAACP chapter and Indivisible. 

The group stood in silence for 45 minutes.  Then Pastor Jo Schonewolf from Whittier United Methodist Church gave a benediction focusing on the children at the vigil. 

Lilly Knoepp

Governor Roy Cooper announced that restaurants, salons and pools can reopen on Friday with limited capacity as part of Phase 2 for lifting COVID-19 restrictions. Meanwhile, bars, gyms and other businesses will remain closed. The order however, was unclear if craft breweries are able to open. The operations straddle the line between bar and restaurant. 

Lilly Knoepp

FIND THE LATEST COVID-19 CASE COUNT IN NORTH CAROLINA HERE.  FOR ANSWERS TO FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS CLICK HERE.

Jackson County Public Health Department has reported the first death due to COVID-19 in the county. The individual was over the age of 65 and had underlying health conditions.  

Lilly Knoepp

FIND THE LATEST COVID-19 CASE COUNT IN NORTH CAROLINA HERE.  FOR ANSWERS TO FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS CLICK HERE.

Jackson County Department of Public Health announced today that there are now 24 total COVID-19 cases in the county. This is a jump up from last week when there were just five positive cases.  

Cory Vaillancourt

As of April 16, more than 630,000 North Carolina workers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic had filed for state unemployment benefits, but even with many industries still shuttered, many others are still looking for workers.

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