By Beth Lawrence
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners put to bed the fate of the Confederate monument at Tuesday’s regular meeting. At least for the foreseeable future.
The board voted unanimously to leave the statue on the steps of the former courthouse, a place it has inhabited for more than 100 years. However, some changes will be made to the base. The board decided to cover the Confederate flag with a plaque relating the county’s involvement in the Civil War and the soldiers from Jackson County who served and remove the words “Our Heroes of the Confederacy.”
Commissioners voted 4–1 for the changes with Commissioner Ron Mau voting no.
“The comment was made that the compromise will lay the issue to rest,” Mau said. “With the statue staying there the issue will not be laid to rest.”
The board has debated what to do with the monument over the last several weeks. A measure taken by the Sylva Town Board may have been the catalyst for Tuesday’s vote.
With Mayor Lynda Sossamon and Sylva town board members Barbara Hamilton and Ben Guiney watching, town board member David Nestler addressed the county via Zoom presenting the town’s resolution challenging the county to move the statue outside city limits.
“I would like to clear up a few misconceptions about this resolution and what it means for you,” Nestler said. “We are not saying that this statue should be torn down and thrown away, and we are not saying that the sacrifice our community members made during the Civil War is something to be forgotten. What we are saying is that it is not something to be celebrated.”
Nestler said the time had come to reconcile that part of history and put the statue in a place where it could be considered for “somber reflection instead of glorification” because the community has rejected the statue and sees it as divisive.
“What you are holding over downtown right now is a symbol that, to many of our residents, represents hate,” he said. “It is dividing our town, and it’s creating a very unsafe space.”
Nestler was not in favor of covering the flag or removing the inscription.
The town board’s resolution states Sylva is home to residents from “a multitude of different backgrounds, ethnicities, religions and opinions” and town leaders want all residents treated equally with regard for their wellbeing.
It goes on to say the statue tells only one side of history and ignores the “suffering of others who have contributed equally” to Sylva.
That resolution passed 3-2 on July 27 with Nestler, Guiney and Greg McPherson in favor and Hamilton and Mary Gelbaugh opposed.
More than 30 residents again lined up in person and digitally to speak at Tuesday’s meeting. Commenters requested the county either leave the statue, relocate or remove it, with two supporting leaving it and covering the Confederate battle flag.
Commissioner Boyce Dietz suggested healing would not come only by removing the statue. He recognized that there is still racism in the county.
“I’ve lost friends by correcting some of my friends for using the n-word,” he said. “I wish I really had a great answer for what’s about to happen. I know we still have problems, but my hope is that we can work together. We can tear that statue down; we can throw it in the river … until people start addressing people about some of these problems, until we look at each other and say, ‘You shouldn’t talk like that or you shouldn’t feel like that,’ and have guts enough to say it even to our friends, that’s when things will be better.”