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Funding approved for Sylva statue changes

The proposed changes would cover pedestal inscriptions glorifying the Confederacy. Donated photo The proposed changes would cover pedestal inscriptions glorifying the Confederacy. Donated photo

The pedestal of the Confederate soldier statue in Sylva will get a $14,000 makeover following a 4-1 vote from the Jackson County commissioners. 

The May 18 vote came nine months after the board agreed on Aug. 4 , 2020, to make the changes in response to criticism  that the statue — and its prominent placement on the hill overlooking downtown Sylva — glorifies racism and the Confederacy. 

During an April 13 work session, Chairman Brian McMahan and Commissioner Gayle Woody presented their proposed design to cover up the Confederate flag and inscription “Our heroes of the Confederacy” that currently adorns the front of the pedestal. The Confederate flag will be covered with a large plaque reading, “Jackson County N.C. Civil War Memorial. This monument was erected by citizens of Jackson County in memory of those who died during the American Civil War. Originally dedicated on September 18, 1915. Rededicated on May 11, 1996, to honor Jackson County veterans of all wars.” The words “Our heroes of the Confederacy” would be covered with a plaque spelling out the nation’s unofficial motto, “E Pluribus Unum,” which means “out of many, one.”

County Manager Don Adams presented a cost estimate for the changes, which commissioners approved. The plan is to install dark-colored aluminum panels on the front face of the pedestal, which would serve to cover up the original inscriptions without damaging or permanently removing them. On top of the aluminum panel, cast bronze plaques would be installed bearing commissioners’ desired inscription. The estimated cost for materials is $11,190.85 with an installation fee of $1,910 and sales tax of $783.36 for a total price tag of $13,884.20. 

With commissioners’ approval secured, the company — Yadkinville-based AOA Signs — will produce a spec design, which commissioners will also approve. Once that approval is given, the production phase will begin. The process could take up to eight weeks to complete from the time commissioners approve the design. 

Commissioners voted 4-1 last August to pursue the changes after Sylva’s town board voted 3-2 approving a resolution  that asked the county relocate the statue. The majority of the county commissioners saw the solution as a compromise between community members who view the statue as offensive glorification of a racist past and others who see it as a memorial to a horrific war that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of ordinary people. However, the solution appears unlikely to appease either side, with the anti-statue faction reiterating that they’ll settle for nothing less than seeing the statue moved to a less conspicuous location and the pro-statue crowd decrying the planned changes as a disrespectful bow to political pressure. 

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Even on the board of commissioners, agreement with the plan has not been unanimous. Commissioner Tom Stribling, who joined the board following November’s election, voted against it and has consistently expressed his disapproval of the proposal. During an interview ahead of the 2020 election, he called the statue “a symbol of freedom,” and said that it’s a piece of history that “doesn’t need to be erased. It needs to be taught.”

“So this is spending $13,000 to cover the Confederate flag, is that what we’re doing with this?” he asked during a May 11 work session discussing the issue. 

“That would be correct,” replied McMahan. 

“I think it’s a waste of money myself,” he said. “Just my two cents.” 

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