Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Confederate Flag Removed in Palestine, TX

On Monday evening April 5, 2011, the Confederate flag that was raised Friday over the Anderson County Courthouse in Palestine, Texas was taken down.  The flying of the flag had divided the community of Palestine.  Palestine Mayor Bob Herrington called an emergency meeting Monday night to request Anderson County officials to back down from flying the original version of the Confederate flag.

The intent of flying the flag was to honor 1,100 local men who served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.  Ronnie Hatfield of the John H. Reagan Camp No. 2156, Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans raised an early version of the Confederate flag over the Anderson County Courthouse last Friday. Mr. Hatfield also proposed a resolution declaring the month of April as Confederate History and Heritage Month. “The purpose of our organization is to remember and honor the accomplishments of Confederate soldiers and tell their story to future Americans,” Hatfield said. “We are not affiliated with hate groups, nor do we promote bigotry of any kind.”

Unfortunately,  the Confederate flag is associated with the rebellion of Southern States which had its origins in maintaining the institution of slavery in the agricultural South. The use or misuse of the flag is also associated with numerous hate groups.  According to Wikipedia, "The display of the Confederate flag remains a highly controversial and emotional topic, generally because of disagreement over its symbolism. Some groups use the Southern Cross as one of the symbols associated with their organizations, including racist groups such as the Neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.  The flag is also sometimes used by separatist organizations such as the Aryan Nations."

The association of the historic association of the Confederate flag with slavery as well as its current use by racist groups upsets African Americans.  They discount the historic desire to honor Confederate veterans and see only the evils of slavery and hate crimes. 

The Palestine community realized that the flag has mixed messages. What was especially upsetting to African Americans in this community was that the flag was flown on government property.  In some minds this was a defacto recognition of the negative perceptions of the flag.  Mayor Herrington expressed his concern when he said "I don't pledge allegiance to the Confederate flag." Herrington added, "When you fly a flag on a government-owned piece of property that divides people, it destroys the concept of unity."

As to declaring the month of April as Confederate History and Heritage Month, I'd suggest that the city and county rephrase the declaration to read Civil War History and Heritage Month.  This would allow the community to celebratte both the Confederate veterans and ancestors of the black slaves who gained their freedom after the war. 

Watching over this issue is the statue of John Henry Reagan.  Reagan practiced law in Palestine and Buffalo, Texas.    He was elected a district judge in Palestine, serving from 1852 to 1857. Reagan was a moderate and a supporter of the Union, but resigned from Congress on January 15, 1861 and returned to his home state when it became clear that Texas would secede.  President Jefferson Davis picked Reagan to head the new Confederate States of America Post-office Department.  Another thought for the good folks of Anderson County would be to include a seminar on their hometown boy, who historian Ben H. Procter included Reagan in his list of the "four greatest Texans of the 19th century," along with Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin, and James Stephen Hogg.

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