(TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH) - Extra law enforcement will be on hand and all sides hope things go peacefully when the NAACP protests and the Sons of Confederate Veterans dedicate their new plaza in memory of Confederate soldiers in downtown Palestine on Saturday.
Palestine NAACP President Kenneth Davidson said he expects NAACP members from across the state to show up to demonstrate against the plaza. Although he would not estimate how many might come, Davidson said believes they will come from Austin, Beaumont, Houston, San Antonio, Longview, San Angelo, Corpus Christi and other cities.
Meanwhile John H. Reagan Camp 2156 Sons of Confederate Veterans expects up to 400 re-enactors, many from out of state, to participate in a parade and dedication of the recently constructed Confederate Veterans Memorial Plaza.
The plaza sits on private property bounded by Oak, North Jackson and Main streets. It contains several monuments and a back wall where the sons plan to display narrative Confederate history. In the center of the plaza are flagpoles that spokesmen for the sons say will fly the Texas flag surrounded by various flags flown by the Confederacy and the soldier's flag.
The NAACP will conduct a march from 9 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. to protest the plaza and flags, Davidson said. It will start at the farmers' market on West Spring Street, proceed along West Oak to Howard Street, turn east on Oak and then right on Main Street back to the farmers market, Davidson said
The demonstration will continue with speakers at the farmers' market until 4 p.m., he said.
"It will be a peaceful demonstration," Davidson said.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans will conduct a parade from Anderson County Courthouse to the plaza starting at 10 a.m. and the dedication ceremony at 11 a.m. Parade entries will include re-enactors, a band, a horse cavalry and a mechanized cavalry.
"We told all people in our group don't say anything to them (the NAACP protesters). If they say anything to you, just leave them alone and don't start any conversation," Gary Williams, camp historian, said. "We want to go through our deal peacefully. Hopefully it will go down that way.
Palestine Police Chief Robert Herbert said that as Palestine's chief law officer he is "concerned about any event that could pose a situation."
A number of Palestine officers will be added to officers normally on duty and there is a possibility additional officers from other agencies may be brought in to assist, Herbert said, although he declined to identify the other agencies.
"I hope everything will be peaceful," Herbert said.
Anderson County Sheriff Greg Taylor, noting there is a potential for problems, said the sheriff's office will have "additional staff" available in case police need help.
Williams said he and three or four other members of the Sons of the Confederacy were informed by the police chief during a meeting early this week that the NAACP was planning a protest.
"I wish we could co-exist and come to a mutual understanding that we are not the enemy. We are not going to try to start the civil rights movement all over again. This (the plaza) is basically history … we want to leave some sort of lasting memorial to other generations. If ever they want to learn about their Confederate ancestors, they have a place to start," Williams said.
He added, "It's not racism; it's about the Confederate veterans who left here." The only way the plaza affects the NAACP members is if they have an ancestor that served as a black Confederate soldier, Williams said, noting there are eight brick pavers in the plaza in honor of documented black Confederate soldiers.
Williams contended that the plaza is an appropriate memorial for Confederate soldiers marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.
But Davidson said the Confederate flags that the Sons of the Confederacy plan to fly in the plaza are a symbol of hatred and stand for slavery.
They will "divide the city in half," Davidson said.
Vicki Shivers, former secretary for Palestine NAACP, said the NAACP does not want the Confederate flags to fly in the plaza.
"I want to see unity in the community. There's too much division in this small town," Ms. Shivers said. She pointed out that the Sons of the Confederacy do not plan to fly the U.S. flag and contended "nothing positive will come out of this."