By Beth Lawrence
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners is considering a request to change the county’s namesake.
At the board’s Jan. 12 meeting, board members discussed resolution 324 approved by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian Tribal Council supporting the idea of changing the county’s namesake from President Andrew Jackson to late Principal Chief Walter S. Jackson of the EBCI.
While most board members supported the idea, there was some reluctance to move forward.
“We all know that in North Carolina county governments are an extension of the state,” Board Chair Brian McMahan said. “Our legislature is the one that created Jackson County, and it’s a legislative action. I don’t want to take action on something and we don’t even know what we can and can’t do to begin with.”
McMahan asked County Attorney Heather Baker if changing the name would have to be done by the state legislature. Baker did not know.
Commissioner Gayle Woody took preemptive steps after having been asked by Principal Chief Richie Sneed’s office to consider the move. She reached out to Amy Bason, legal counsel for the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners.
“She said there was no precedent for any county changing a name but there was also no statute specifically designating the process for naming a county,” Woody said. “Therefore, she felt like there was nothing legally that would stand in our way.”
Prior to becoming Principal Chief in 1967, Walter Jackson served in the Navy in World War II, as Cherokee Police Chief, council representative for 12 years and tribal council vice chief among his other accomplishments and service to the tribe.
President Jackson’s legacy includes having owned up to 300 slaves and having been a proponent of Manifest Destiny, the idea that America belonged to white people and supporting policies of Indian removal, pushing eastern tribes further west so white settlers could take native lands.
McMahan said community names give a “strong sense of place” but that they do change over time. He mentioned the Willets community once having been named Alice.
Woody pointed out that the Cherokee were the “original inhabitants” and reminded the board that part of the county lies in the Qualla Boundary.
Commissioner Boyce Deitz supports the idea.
“I think we ought to look at it real strong,” Deitz said. “I will have very positive thoughts about changing it unless somebody showed me strong reasons why we shouldn’t. Since the reservation is so much in Jackson County, I think it’d be a great tribute. It doesn’t really change the name, but it changes the purpose of the name and what it stands for.”
Commissioner Tom Stribling does not want to change the namesake.
“History is history, and it shouldn’t be changed in my opinion, same thing with the statue,” he said. “So I’m not for it. I think it should be left the way it is.”
The board asked Baker to look further into the matter and will take up the issue at a future meeting.