Do (Ever-Higher) Fences Make Good Neighbors?
Some folks may recall the case last year in South Carolina where Annie Chambers Caddell moved into a historically African American neighborhood, and put a Confederate flag on the front of her house. Her neighborhood’s origins go back to the close of the Civil War, when the area was settled by several former members of the 1st USCT, who’d been stationed there at the end of their military service. Caddell, who is white, argued she was honoring her Confederate ancestors; her neighbors, not surprisingly, see the flag as a symbol of something else entirely.
Inevitably there were protests against Caddell, and counter-protests in response (above). It got worse; someone reportedly threw a rock through Caddell’s front window. There has been inflammatory, over-the-top rhetoric on both sides. Not surprisingly, both sides have chosen to escalate the dispute.
Earlier this year, two solid 8-foot high wooden fences were built on either side of Annie Chambers Caddell’s modest brick house to shield the Southern banner from view.
Late this summer, Caddell raised a flagpole higher than the fences to display the flag. Then a similar pole with an American flag was placed across the fence in the yard of neighbor Patterson James, who is black. . . .
“I’m here to stay. I didn’t back down and because I didn’t cower the neighbors say I’m the lady who loves her flag and loves her heritage,” said the 51-year old Caddell who moved into the historically black Brownsville neighborhood in the summer of 2010. Her ancestors fought for the Confederacy.
Last October, about 70 people marched in the street and sang civil rights songs to protest the flag, while about 30 others stood in Caddell’s yard waving the Confederate flag.
Opponents of the flag earlier gathered 200 names on a protest petition and took their case to a town council meeting where Caddell tearfully testified that she’s not a racist. Local officials have said she has the right to fly the flag, while her neighbors have the right to protest. And build fences.
“Things seemed to quiet down and then the fences started,” Caddell said. “I didn’t know anything about it until they were putting down the postholes and threw it together in less than a day.”
Aaron Brown, the town councilman whose district includes Brownsville, said neighbors raised money for the fences.
“The community met and talked about the situation,” he said. “Somebody suggested that what we should do is just go ahead and put the fences up and that way somebody would have to stand directly in front of the house to see the flag and that would mediate the flag’s influence.”
Caddell isn’t bothered by the fences and said they even seem to draw more attention to her house.
“People driving by here because of the privacy fences, they tend to slow down,” she said. “If the objective was to block my house from view, they didn’t succeed very well.”
You can see where this is going; by this time next year, one side or the other will have put up a big-ass flag.
More seriously, this is just headache-inducing. The only people benefiting from this rancorous business are flagpole installers and the local lumber yard.
I don’t know what the answer here is. Caddell has a right to display her flag; her neighbors have a right to make their objection to it clear. But neither benefits from continually upping the ante, nor does it help to bring in outside groups and activists to use this case to fight a larger proxy battle for historical memory, as recently happened in Lexington. That only serves to harden the resolve of all concerned, by raising the purported stakes beyond what they actually are. I hope Caddell and her neighbors eventually come to some sort of resolution in this business. But that doesn’t seem likely anytime soon, so long as all parties insist on following the tired script of action and reaction, and insist on having others fight their rhetorical battles instead of talking to each other like responsible grown-ups.
Image (Original Caption): Brownsville Community resident Tim Hudson (right) tells H.K. Edgerton of Ridgeville he looks “ridiculous” in his Confederate uniform as he stands with outside the home of Annie Chambers Caddell Saturday, October 16, 2010. Brownsville community members marched past Caddell’s home to protest her flying of the confederate flag outside her home in the predominantly black neighborhood. Hudson was not a marcher in the protest group. Photo by Alan Hawes, postandcourier.com.