PALESTINE, Texas — Tall trees and dogwood blossoms; it's the kind of East Texas tranquility most folks in Palestine want to be known for.
But right now, what Palestine is showing the world is a town consumed with the meaning of the Confederate flag.
On Wednesday morning, Billy Peeler, who is white, joined a group of protesters who were angry that the banner had been removed from the courthouse flagpole.
“To me, it represents freedom; that doesn’t,” Peeler said, pointing to the United States flag. “To me it represents tyranny. Oppression. Racism.”
Anderson County Commissioner Rashad Mims, who is black, was outspoken about removing the Confederate flag. He confronted the protesters on the courthouse steps.
"When I hold my head high, I look at you in your eye and talk to you and I represent all people of Anderson County at all times," Mims said. "Not just one race; not just one nationality; not just Hispanic Americans, white Americans or African Americans. I stand up for unity that the Texas flag stands for, and I recommend you demonstrate the same thing."
Last Friday, the Confederate flag was raised by a group called Sons of Confederate Veterans. When asked to remove it by County Judge Robert Johnston, they complied.
The group says the exercise was not about glorifying the Civil War, but honoring the sacrifice of 1,000 men from Anderson County who fought for the South.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans did not participate in Wednesday's protest, but member Doug Smith was unapologetic about what that banner means to him.
"That's where the flag flew roughly 150 years ago. That's what they marched away from and it was their memory we were honoring,” Smith said. "We knew from the original vote in Commissioners Court — which was 3-2 — that there might be some disagreement. But we're reasonable. And as far as I'm concerned, people with differing opinions can be reasonable as well.”
But if that is to happen in this town of blossoms and bad blood, this event must be the beginning of the story — not the end.