My family, like many others, has existed in Sylva since the early 1800’s. They were teachers and farmers, and helped build two Baptist churches. None of them owned a slave. And that goes for 99.9 percent of the residents of Jackson County at the time.
When the Civil War began, North Carolina called her sons to take up arms and defend the state from invasion. And the poor farmers of Jackson County answered that call the same way they would answer it today. Those men did not take up arms to defend slavery, they were fighting for their homes. Thomas’ Legion, a local regiment formed in 1861, had several Native American companies from Cherokee, and a company of “non-white” soldiers, which indicates to some the unit may have included African-Americans.
Why would people fight for a country that endorsed slavery? You have to look at people in the context of the time in which they lived. We have a dangerous habit of judging historical figures through a modern lens that gives us a 150-plus year advantage in national and societal growth. When that modern standard is applied, most historical figures fall short. Not because they were horrible people, but because they are being judged out of their historical context which is unfair to their memory and their descendants. But that has become the “woke” thing to do, along with removing any object or name that a small group of people find “offensive.”
The Confederate monument in Sylva was erected in 1915 to honor the remaining veterans and those that had passed. The money for the monument came from donations and Daughters of the Confederacy bake sales. It was not erected to intimidate anyone, nor was it erected to glorify the cause of the Confederacy. It was erected by people to honor their grandparents for going to war when they were called. I had three ancestors present at the monument’s dedication, and several of my childhood friends had ancestors there as well.
That monument stood unmolested for over 100 years before it was targeted as a symbol of racism. Now there are demands, often from newer residents of the county, to remove the monument. Why? To bring unity, they say. But tearing down a monument raised for the ancestors of others is not unity. It is an intolerance for a majority of tax-paying citizens in the county that do not want their statue removed. And make no mistake… if this was voted on by citizens of Jackson County, the statue would remain. That is probably why the citizens will not get much of a voice. That seems to be the trend everywhere. Remove anything that offends one group while you offend another group. That is not unity. That is not America. That is the start of creeping totalitarianism. We should all be alarmed at that.
I have seen people who love their history stand guard over the monument during several local protests after the killing of George Floyd. Not because they were racist monsters (that of course is the slant the media applies), but because they had watched businesses burned all over the nation, people assaulted, and monuments to everyone from Columbus to Washington torn down by gleeful mobs that have no knowledge of history, just a desire to destroy.
In the end, this is all for naught anyway. The state of North Carolina enacted a law in 2015 that protects all monuments in the state, including Confederate, from removal. It was enacted for just such a time so that the political whim of the day does not dictate what people can and cannot see. Any attempt at removal would be breaking the law. And we cannot pick and choose what laws we abide by... or none of them matter. The county can vote to remove the statue... but they cannot legally touch it. That is the part everyone is missing. So all of this fighting is moot.
History has warts. But it reminds us how far we have come in a century and a half. We need these reminders. We need them as individuals in our own lives to mark our growth as people... and sometimes that growth is ugly. Society is the same. We need to see our warts in order to appreciate our blessings.
Emmanuel Macron, the very liberal leader of France, said this when a similar monument purge was beginning to rise, “France will not engage in ‘false rewriting of history,’ no statues are coming down.”
It’s pretty bad when the French get it... but we do not. Leave the statues alone. Maybe try to fix the actual problems in poor and minority communities... and stop ginning up racial animosity by attacking memorials to men long dead. Just a thought.
Frank Huguelet is a semi-retired professional wrestler known as Ric Savage, former host of Savage Family Diggers on Spike TV, and co-host of The Savage-Turner Rock Express Podcast with Erik Turner of the band, Warrant. An avid student of history, he has done historical artifact recoveries in more than 20 states. Retired from the U.S. Army, he lives in Sylva.