The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

Local Scene

April 5, 2011

Confederate flag comes down at Anderson County Courthouse

PALESTINE — Amid a firestorm of controversy which attracted media from as far away as Dallas, the first national flag of the Confederacy was removed from outside the Anderson County Courthouse Monday.

Representatives of the Sons of Confederate Veterans took down the flag around 6 p.m. Monday as the Palestine City Council was holding a special meeting just blocks away to consider a resolution asking Anderson County commissioners to reconsider its vote of one week earlier.

A crowd of roughly 20 persons sang “Dixie” after the flag was removed from the courthouse.

“The John H. Reagan Camp No. 2156 Sons of the Confederate Veterans and the Davis-Reagan Chapter No. 2292 United Daughters of the Confederacy honorably and respectfully lowered and removed the Confederate First National flag at 5:45 p.m. Monday, April 4, 2011 from the flag pole at the Anderson County Courthouse,” John H. Reagan Camp No. 2156 SCV Commander Marc Robinson said in a statement provided to the Herald-Press.

“A small dignified flag ceremony preempted the city council actions at which venue we were informed only one hour before they met that we were not going to be able to present our proposal to the council,” Robinson continued.

On March 28, the Anderson County commissioners’ court voted, 3-2, to declare April as Confederate History and Heritage Month, with a resolution also calling for the “Stars and Bars” flag — the first national flag of the Confederacy — to be flown at the courthouse for the entire month.

Anderson County Judge Robert Johnston and commissioners Joe Chaffin and Joey Hill voted “for” the resolution, while commissioners Kenneth Dickson and Rashad Q. Mims I cast the dissenting votes.

The replica of the original Confederate flag, with two red stripes, one white stripe and seven stars on a field of blue, was raised during a Friday morning ceremony outside the Anderson County Courthouse.

Local members of the Palestine branch of the NAACP attended Friday’s event, turning their backs as a show of protest as the flag was hoisted up the flagpole.

Following Friday’s flag ceremony, media outlets from various parts of the state, including television stations from Dallas and Tyler, began reporting the story, prompting Palestine Mayor Bob Herrington to call a special meeting to consider a resolution “regarding Anderson County’s decision to display the Confederate flag.”

After approximately 40 minutes of discussion Monday, council member Vernon Denmon Jr. made a motion to adopt the resolution which gained a  second from council member Andrea Baird.

Before the council could take a vote, however, Mims, who was in attendance at Monday’s meeting, advised he had received a telephone call, telling audience members, “The flag is down.”

Many members of the mostly African-American crowd of approximately 100 people then stood and cheered.

The council went ahead and voted, 7-0, to approve the resolution asking the county to “reverse” its decision and have the flag removed from the courthouse.

Anderson County Sheriff Greg Taylor told the Herald-Press that a group started assembling outside the courthouse around 5:30 p.m. Monday and removed the flag roughly 30 minutes later.

During Monday’s discussion, all seven council members expressed their concerns over the flag flying at the courthouse.

Herrington opened the meeting by addressing the crowd for approximately 15 minutes and, at one point, pointed to the wall behind where he was seated, saying he pledged allegiance to the U.S. and Texas flags.

The Texas flag, Herrington said, “represents the valor and courage of our Confederate soldiers” who fought in the Civil War.

“It’s (the Confederacy) a government that no longer exists,” Herrington told the crowd. “...It’s hard for me to recognize a flag like the Confederate flag that is so divisive in nature.”

To fly such a flag “on government-owned property...destroys the concept of unity,” the mayor added.

The Confederate flag and other similar pieces of history should perhaps be put “in a museum,” Herrington said, “but don’t fly a symbol of divisiveness in the face of decent people.”

Herrington and council member Jim Yelverton also both made reference to the potential negative impact the symbol could have on economic development.

“A lot of national companies, they will run from that flag,” Herrington said. “They’re not going to locate here.”

As a public official, Baird said one must often weigh “the benefit versus the risks and outcomes” when making a decision.

“If it is not in the benefit of all involved,” Baird said, “then you find other things to do.

“We have to consider all our residents,” she continued, “not just a special group that comes before us” and asks to commemorate their celebration.

Denmon, who is African-American, said he remembers as a child growing up in Anderson County being told by his grandparents “what I could and could not do at the courthouse.

“This is not Apollo 13,” Denmon said, “but Houston we do have a problem in Palestine.”

Late Monday evening following the flag removal, a group of Palestine residents scheduled a protest for 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Anderson County Courthouse, inviting several area media outlets.

“Many members of the community, along with myself, are extremely disappointed that the Confederate flag was taken down from the courthouse this evening,” Palestine resident Morgan Carroll said in a statement to the Herald-Press. “In response, we are holding a protest on Wednesday, April 6 at 11 a.m.”

The group also made a Facebook group (http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_200693163298374) and encouraged supporters to bring signs and flags to the protest.

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Paul Stone may be contacted via e-mail at pstone@palestineherald.com

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