Orange residents, City Council express concern over Confederate flag

Orange residents, City  Council express concern over Confederate flag

Many Orange residents attended the City Council meeting Tuesday, Feb. 12, at the Orange Public Library to speak out regarding the potential construction of a Confederate flag at MLK Drive and Interstate 10 in Orange.

According to Orange City Manager Shawn Oubre, a private property owner has proposed erecting the flag on a tract of land at 4120 Interstate 10 near MLK Drive. The proposal is in preliminary stages of planning at this time.

According to a Jan. 22, 2012 blog posting on the website “The South’s Defender,” Granvel Block purchased the tract of land in the name of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, an organization boasting 30,000 members, for which he is a division commander. The passage goes on to state Block and his group plan to erect more 26 Confederate flags on the site.

The first citizen to approach the podium at the meeting was Orange resident Edwin Hawthorne. Hawthorne addressed the council, speaking in opposition of the construction of the Confederate flag.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve wondered, why isn’t Orange growing,” Hawthorne began. “Why isn’t Orange progressing? We want to see Orange grow. … We need change. … This Confederate thing isn’t good for the city.”

Suzy Murray of Orange stepped up to the podium next to ask the council to halt the construction of the flag.

“I’ve been in Orange all my life,” Murray said. “When I was told of the incident of putting a Confederate flag on MLK, I was disturbed.”

Murray said she never dreamed of a day when white and black congregations would worship together in church, but said that times have changed. She said she is a member of United Methodist on Sixth Street in Orange and is thankful that her viewpoint has changed since then. She said she does not want to see the flag, which is a symbol of divisiveness in her eyes.

Betty White of Orange also addressed the council to protest erecting the flag, echoing the sentiments of Hawthorne and Murray.

“In 2013, we should not be faced with these types of things,” White stated. “The Confederate flag, when I was growing up, was a sign of division. We didn’t celebrate that flag. We celebrated the United States flag. … As a community, there should be something to come of this to remove the flag.”

In response to the comments regarding the Confederate flag proposal, Oubre interjected in order to remind those concerned that the structure would be built on private property, leaving the city with limited control over the situation.

“This is not the city; this is a property owner,” Oubre said. “Whether we agree or not with … what is put out there is another matter. … I want to let Mr. Smith (city attorney Jack Smith) comment on First Amendment rights.”

“I’m in total agreement with what’s been said,” Smith said regarding the citizens’ comments opposing the Confederate flag placement. “I think it’s totally repugnant. … It’s not being done by someone from here. It’s not a local citizen. …We’ve got to figure out a way to … prevent this use (of property). … I’ve got to tread very carefully here.”

Smith said preventing the property owner from constructing the flagpole and flying the flag could be a violation of the man’s right to freedom of expression. However, Smith indicated he would be looking for ways the city could halt the project.

District 3 Councilwoman Essie Bellfield said she understands the legal issues involved with blocking the construction of the flag, but she intends to do her best to see the flag is never erected.

“We’re gonna fight like hell,” Bellfield said passionately to those gathered at the meeting.

In an interview, Oubre said the owner of the property is going through the process right now. He still has to finalize construction plans and obtain a building permit from the city. He said the city will be monitoring the situation and will keep the public posted on any new developments.