Reconcile Sylva, and members of the community came together Friday, Sept. 18, at the Jackson County Public Library to demand the removal of the confederate statue, “Sylva Sam,” that has been on the courthouse steps for, according to the protesters, 105 years too long.
“For those who want to argue that this statue doesn’t represent racism, when it was put on those steps in 1915, as a black woman, I would not be allowed to vote. I graduated with three degrees from [WCU], I wouldn’t have been able to do that. I own my own business, that would not have been able to happen. My partner here is a white man, he and his family are from Jackson County. That probably wouldn’t have been able to happen, and if it would have who knows what would have happened to both of us,” said Natalie Newman, a local black business owner. “There’s a lot in my life that wouldn’t have been able to happen if it wasn’t for allies like [the people here protesting] fighting for change. But, we’re not done yet.”
At the protest were approximately 80 people ranging from ages as low as five to as old as 85. At the protest, there were five main speakers.
In between speeches, they played music that was about the struggle of black people in America. Participants were asked to do more than just enjoy the beat of the song, they were asked to listen closely to what exactly these artists were talking about.
Rev. Tammy Logan from Forest City, North Carolina, came to share a Christian perspective on confederate statues in America. In her speech, she focused on the importance of truth in the process of reconciliation.
“The only way that you can reconcile one with the other is, to begin with, the truth,” said Rev. Logan. She went on to describe how omitting history in schools is part of the reason some people do not support the removal of the statue, and also why the statue was built to begin with. “It’s not just about a statue it’s about controlling the narrative . . . in our schools we teach our children this narrative that backs white superiority . . . whoever controls the narrative controls the people.” Logan said, “If you want to reconcile Sylva, you have to start telling the truth.”
While Rev. Logan spoke, several cars and a motorcycle passed by the protest revving their engines loudly, passing by multiple times. Additionally, at least 12 police officers were on standby at the courthouse.
“I’m glad to see some of our elected officials here. I notice that they are all town of Sylva because our County Commissioners are spineless, with the exception of Ron Mau,” said Kelly Brown, a member of Reconcile Sylva. “Our [District Attorney, Ashley Welch], who is okay with individuals walking with guns in downtown Sylva, there are no guns up here but yet, look how many cop cars you see parked here and they’re [hanging around on the steps of the courthouse]. For what reason? What reason? Yet, they couldn’t find a way to charge people who walk through Sylva with guns. It just blows my mind. I guess we’ll just vote Ashley Welch out.”
The statue has since been re-dedicated in the 90s as a soldier’s monument to all veterans of all wars. To the protesters, that action does not change what the statue was intended to represent.
“It is not about the intentions it’s about the impact, and the impact of a white male soldier in a confederate uniform does not represent all veterans here who fought in the civil war, World War I, World War II, Vietnam, Desert Storm or any other war,” said Logan. It’s dismissing the fact that many lost their lives, who did not and would not consider wearing that uniform.”
Many have advocated that racism has not been a problem in Sylva. They say that the statue is merely remembering their heritage. Jackson County native, Ellerna Forney, explained some of the struggles with racism that she has observed in her time in Sylva. She explained how many of the black people in Sylva must leave the area in order to get a job.
“Our schools need help, they said there is no racism in our schools . . . there was a class that was cleaning buses, my cousin called me crying saying that she was going to get a zero because she wouldn’t pick up this wad of tobacco,” said Forney. “It wasn’t just because she as a colored girl, it was anyone that was poor who’d be put in that special class. We had to go all the way up to Raleigh to get that shut down.”
Reconcile Sylva continues to protest nightly around the area. They also have started a canned food drive and other philanthropy efforts to give back to the community. Brown said that what they do every day is in hope to make their community a better place for their children to grow up.