By Dave Russell
A resolution passed 4-1 at Sylva’s last town board meeting of 2020 asks the Jackson County Commissioners to change the namesake – not the name – of the county.
Board member Ben Guiney wrote the resolution and last Thursday presented it to the board.
“On October 29, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians passed a resolution requesting the namesake of Jackson County be changed from President Andrew Jackson to Walter S. Jackson,” Guiney said. “By my reading, he is someone who is a very remarkable individual and very important to the tribe.”
Walter Jackson was a World War II veteran, the Cherokee chief of police and the 18th principal chief, Guiney said. Jackson served as principal chief from 1967-71.
“He was born, raised and died in Jackson County,” Guiney said. “He was instrumental in doing a lot of stuff for the tribe, like bringing in the tribe’s health service and getting the hospital set up there. The tribe felt very strongly about this and they really make a great case for changing it.
“Sylva is the county seat of Jackson County and I think it’s something that would show a lot of unity in Jackson County to support the tribe’s request that the Jackson County commissioners move to change the namesake,” he said.
Board member Barbara Hamilton knew the man.
“Walter Jackson was a very good friend of ours,” she said. “We knew him as ‘Bull’ Jackson, and he did a lot for the Cherokee Indians. I think this is very well deserved. It’s very, very well deserved for the Cherokee Nation and he deserves this.”
“It’s very symbolic and very powerful,” board member David Nestler said. “I think it means a lot. Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act and you know this is a county that contains the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian reservation and even though it’s very much a separate nation, we’re all one community, so I think it’s a very good gesture.”
“It’s extremely clever,” board member Greg McPherson said. “I’m glad to hear, Barbara, that you knew him and he was a good person. Just in terms of the removal of and the genocide of the American Indian, I wholeheartedly support this.”
The resolution as proposed by Guiney read:
“Whereas Jackson County, N.C. was and currently remains named after President Andrew Jackson,
“Whereas on October 29th, 2020 the EBCI passed a formal resolution requesting that the namesake of Jackson County, N.C. be formally changed from the former president to Walter S. Jackson the 18th Principal Chief of the EBCI,
Whereas The Town of Sylva is located in and is the County Seat of Jackson County, N.C., Therefore be it resolved that Sylva Town Board of Commissioners supports the EBCI in requesting that the namesake of Jackson County, N.C. be changed from former President Andrew Jackson to 18th Principal Chief Walter S. Jackson and that this resolution be submitted to the Jackson County Commissioners.”
Mary Gelbaugh cast the sole “no” vote. She faced some heat from friends on social media, she said.
“I did not take this vote lightly and I acknowledge the negative consequences to my vote,” she wrote in an email to The Sylva Herald. “I do not have any issue with the acknowledgment and praise to Principal Chief Walter S. Jackson.
“What I voted ‘no’ to is rewriting history and that is what I have trouble backing. I voted ‘no’ to the idea that we go back trying to change everything we do not like about our past and the precedence this would set.
“If this passes what is next? Cities or road names that are not agreeable to our present knowledge of the past? Our past is never dead. We must learn from our past, with the intention to do better, to strive harder and not repeat the mistakes of those that came before us.”