Controversy concerning the Confederate flag memorial continues in Orange as the John H. Reagan Camp No. 2156 of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans officially opened its Confederate Veterans Memorial Plaza Saturday following a parade and dedication ceremony at its location on private property in downtown Palestine.
The plaza will serve as a permanent place of honor and remembrance for Confederate veterans from Anderson County, the State of Texas and across the South.
With representation from the SCV’s regional, state and national organization, the local camp raised five flags for the first time, including the Texas state flag surrounded by the first, second and third national flags of the Confederacy, along with the Confederate battle flag.
The same flag is raising concerns for citizens of Orange as they speak out against the park during recent Orange City Council meetings. The memorial in Orange is expected to have 26 flags from the Confederacy. Thirty-four flags are considered potentials for the Confederate Memorial of the Wind with only 26 actually expected to be raised at the site. The Naval Jack, is not one of the flags under consideration. There are thirty-six Confederate flags.
The Stars and Bars, first National Confederate flag, has been flying on Interstate 10 at the Texas Travel Information Center since at least the year 2000 when they moved into the new building according to a representative of the center.
There are twelve such centers across Texas and each one flies the six flags that have flown over Texas.
The center is inside the city limits of Orange, however it is state owned property.
Though the event in Palestine was devoid of any protests, local law enforcement including the Palestine Police Department, Anderson County Sheriff's Office and the Texas Department of Public Safety stood on vigil in case of an outbreak of any form of violence.
Palestine Police Chief Robert Herbert described the event as “very peaceful.”
Watching the ceremony from a distance, Texas NAACP President Gary Bledsoe was one of a handful of people who spoke out Saturday against the idea of opening a Confederate Veterans Memorial Plaza, especially on a site some locals allege is the location of a former “hanging tree,” according to the black community's oral history.
However, some local historians dispute this, saying the tree on the plaza property is not old enough for this to be true.
“We know there are many good people here in the Sons of the Confederate Veterans but in their national organization some of the people in authority are listed by the Southern Law Center as having positions with hate organizations. It's also regretful that they have chosen this particular site to put their plaza. It's truly provocative that they chose this site where the black community believes is the site of a hanging tree,” Bledsoe said.
Texas Democratic Party Vice Chair Tarsha Hardy also watched the ceremony.
“I believe this will have a domino affect as there is another dedication planned soon in Orange, Texas,” Hardy said. “I think it gives them the opportunity to broadcast and share a message reflecting hate and to flat out disrespect African American heritage and their suffrage by blatantly using a flag that is a symbol that is offensive to many. I feel like they turned back the clock on the progress that had been made here.”
Daniel Davis Clayton, state chair of the Texas Coalition of the Black Texas Democrats agrees, not happy about the location of the plaza in particular.
“What I see here today is a claim of heritage and a demonstration of hate,” Clayton said.
Officers and members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and the Order of Confederate Rose from across Texas and other states were in attendance to dedicate the memorial plaza.
Others speaking or giving greetings during the John H. Reagan Camp No. 2156's dedication ceremony were: Johnnie Holley, 1st Lt. Commander, Texas Division, SCV; Rudy Ray, 1st Lt. Commander, Reagan Camp; Charles Lauret, ATM Councilman and Past Commander Louisiana Division, SVC; Cindy Bobbitt, State Director, Texas Order of the Confederate Rose; Sam Allen, Friends of the Sons of Confederate Veterans; Gary Williams, historian with the John H. Reagan Camp; Betty B. Petruska, president of the Texas Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy; Granvel Block, commander of the Texas Division of SCV; Todd Owen, commander, Army of Trans-Mississippi, SCV.
A Texas Historical Marker also was dedicated, noting the contributions of Confederate veterans from Anderson County.
The Lone Star Color Guard, Northeast Texas Brigade SCV and Honor Guard presented the military honors.
Included in this memorial plaza will be memorial brick pavers engraved with the names of veterans along with their rank and unit.
Residents of Orange attended the dedication to participate in a rally opposing the park in Palestine.
At this time, the park in Orange does not have a date for a dedication or plans for when the park will be completed.
The City of Orange sent the SCV a letter dated April 9, 2013, concerning the lack of sufficient parking for the location in Orange. The city requested the group add two additional American Disabilities Act handicap parking spaces and eight additional parking spaces. Currently the permit plans only show one parking space for the park.
The letter states it is not denying or suspending the current permit. The city has the right to request changes to existing building permits.
SCV has fourteen business days to submit plan revisions to the city.
Cheril Vernon of the Palestine Herald-Press contributed to this article