A town hall meeting Saturday, March 23, at the American Legion Post 49 on Green Avenue was intended by organizers to be a meeting presenting both sides of the controversy over a proposed memorial that would display more than 20 Confederate flags including the infamous battle flag and would be visible from Interstate 10. It turned into a very one-sided affair, however, when no one from the organization Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) showed up to speak their piece.
Dozens of Orange citizens gathered in the hall and listened to a panel of speakers, who all acknowledged their disapproval of the building of the memorial. Members of the community, veterans and civilians alike, all spoke out and said they do not want to see the memorial built at the proposed location, which is close to the intersection of Interstate 10 and MLK Jr. Drive in Orange.
Larry Spears Sr. attended the event with his son, Larry Spears Jr., who was a speaker at the meeting.
“I understand they (SCV) want to recognize their family and loved ones, but we have family and loved ones too,” the older Spears commented. “The Confederate battle flag has negative connotations. What message would it send? If people are driving on I-10 coming from the east, they are not going to stop in Orange because of the negative association when they see that flag. The will go to Beaumont and spend their money there instead. This is my back yard, and I don’t want it here.”
Moderator Nathaniel Brown, president of the Galveston chapter of National Action Network, addressed the crowd at the start of the meeting: “I bring greetings from NYC and National Action Network founder Al Sharpton. … We are the voice of the voiceless. No justice, no peace. … It’s time for a change. It’s time to stand up against wicked practices. Residents of Orange, will you take a stand?”
Voices from the audience echoed throughout the room offering words of encouragement to Brown as he told residents to let their city representatives know how they feel about the proposed memorial. Brown suggested that the city amend the 1985 order naming the street after Martin Luther King Jr. in such a way that it no longer “be permitted to have any events on this dedicated street that have opposing views that differ from what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood for.”
“We need to safeguard our principles,” Brown added.
Pastor Tony Hoefner of Faith United Methodist Church was on the panel of speakers. In response to the amendment proposed by Brown, Hoefner said it would need to be reworded because he is certain members of SCV would say the memorial is not in opposition of Dr. King’s principles. He said he believes education is the key to fighting racism. Hoefner said he wanted people to understand that the memorial will likely be built regardless of debate because SCV already has a building permit and plans laid out for the construction.
“Is there racism in Orange?” Hoefner asked. “There dang sure is. What is the solution? We begin to change the way things are. We sit down and talk with the Sons of Confederate Veterans.”
He suggested that since there is no way to halt the construction, a plaque with a quote from the SCV website denouncing what they consider misuses of the battle flag could be placed in front of the memorial.
Brown got back up and said that would not be enough, and he stood by NAN’s proposed amendment.
Orange City Councilwoman Annette Pernell said she spoke to Commander Granvel Block, local leader of SCV and the man who purchased the tract of land designated for the memorial on behalf of the organization. He refused to attend, saying he promised his wife he would no longer be the front man for SCV and the memorial. She said Block told her his wife had received threats and hate mail after his name appeared in numerous media reports regarding the memorial. A source within SCV confirmed that was the case, speaking anonymously with The Examiner staff.
“I called Mr. Block to ask him to be here to let us know why he chose the city of Orange when he and the others live in the county of Orange,” Pernell said. “He told me he wanted to make sure that the real truth of the war was told. … I am sorry he is not here. I really wish he were here. I wish somebody, some of the Sons of Confederate Veterans … would be here to tell us why they chose to kill the city we love because believe me, if the city hasn’t grown yet, it is not going to grow because when you wrap that flag around you, whether you believe in it or not, that’s your flag. That is what people are going to see when they look at you and look at me. They are going to say, ‘Do those people know what that flag stands for?’ As long as we remain quiet, we are on their side.”
Sally Keys of Orange asked, “Is there going to come a time when we can talk them?” Keys said her solution is for SCV to build the memorial somewhere else.
Brown and other organizers said they hope to discuss the issue with members of SCV in the near future. There will be a community forum April 1 at 7 p.m. in the Life Center at the Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Orange.
Sharon Brooks can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 241, or by e-mail at sharon [at] theexaminer [dot] com.