Summerville: Confederate flag can stay put
By Bo Petersen
Thursday, September 30, 2010

SUMMERVILLE — The town will not try to force homeowners to bring down the Confederate battle flag they fly in the historically black Brownsville community, officials said.

After receiving complaints, the town recently sent a representative over to the neighborhood off U.S. Highway 78.

Residents of the predominately black Brownsville community in Summerville are angered over a neighbor’s Confederate battle flag.

"Nobody from the town told them to remove the flag. Nobody from the town is going to go over there to tell them to take that flag down," Town Administrator Dennis Pieper said on Wednesday.

While police and other officials have concerns for neighborhood antipathy over the flag escalating into confrontations between individuals or groups, they frankly concede there’s not much that can be done to tamp down the situation. "They haven’t done anything (legally) wrong," Police Capt. Jon Rogers said .

After buying the home in late July, a couple moved in. A Confederate battle flag now hangs from the porch alongside an American flag. In the yard are a number of Confederate symbols. Signs on the metal fence read

"Confederate Boulevard," "Posted Private," "No Trespassing," and warn people that they risk their lives by approaching. A car in the driveway is emblazoned with Confederate symbols.

More than 80 Brownsville residents packed a meeting Tuesday night called by the community’s District 1 Civic Association and a neighborhood Crime Watch. The group plans to march in protest, petition the town, pack the Oct. 13 Town Council meeting to present that petition, and set up a homeowners association to establish covenants to keep that sort of display from happening.

People who live in the neighborhood and at the meeting said they understand that some people consider the flag and other insignia symbols of heritage. But to the community, the connection is to slavery, servitude, lynchings and the Ku Klux Klan. They have swarmed community and town leaders with phone calls and visits to complain.

"We’re going to follow through with the protest, see what we can do to raise awareness," Dexter Mack, association president, said on Wednesday. "When people come out in large numbers like they did at the meeting, it shows we’re a close-knit community and shows people are not happy about this."

A woman at the home, who is white who would not give her name on Tuesday, said she wasn’t trying to make an issue. She said she doesn’t tell the neighbors what to hang in their yard and they’re not going to tell her what to hang in hers.

The tension is a little unusual in the suburban town, where race relations get testy but rarely heat up into organized confrontations. This a place with a reputation for courtesy, where half the police calls in a given month are "courtesy checks" on properties where the owners aren’t home. Most people make an effort to get along, Brownsville residents will tell you.

The most recent high- profile, racially charged incident occurred 10 years ago, when a Ku Klux Klan group sought a permit for a demonstration downtown. It did not lead to a wider protest.

Charlie Miller, town planning director, stopped by the home accompanied by Fire Chief Marc Melfi, and spoke to a man there.

"He was just as nice as he could be. I let him know emphatically that (pressuring him to take down the flag) was not why we were there. I just let him know there were some complaints," Miller said. "It was just a courtesy visit, to let him know there were complaints."

Residents plan to present the petition to Mayor Berlin G. Myers, himself a Brownsville resident. He frowned Wednesday when he heard about it.

"I tried to calm (the situation) down," he said, adding he didn’t know what more the town could do. "I’ll wait to see the petition."

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