ORANGEBURG, S.C. — Enraged that a Confederate flag continues to fly outside his ice cream shop and confuse customers, a South Carolina man is now warning the flags’ caretakers that he is going to dig up a nearby marker honoring rebel soldiers.
But the owners of the monument said they will have him arrested if he follows through on his threat, arguing that they own the tiny piece of land on which the monument and flag are located.
Edisto River Creamery owner Tommy Daras started digging around the monument Monday and told The Times and Democrat of Orangeburg that he left a message with the Sons of Confederates chapter in Santee, saying that if they want the monument, they better get it soon.
“If they don’t call in a few days, then I will have to make a decision,” Daras said. “I don’t want to disgrace the monument in any way.”
Daras inherited the flag when he bought the Orangeburg restaurant from a segregationist barbecue baron in May 2015. One month later, nine black churchgoers were killed by a white man who proudly displayed the Confederate flag.
Since then, Daras has tried to get the flag taken down, but has been stymied by the fact that the rebel banner flies on 130 square feet (12 square meters) of land deeded to the local Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter in 2005 by Maurice Bessinger, who used to keep literature in his restaurant justifying slavery.
When Daras asked to put up the U.S. flag after the church shooting, the Sons of Confederate Veterans said they would have him arrested for trespassing on their land.
Customers often don’t see the marker, which says the flag honors an 1865 Civil War skirmish at the nearby Edisto River. Instead, many think Daras supports the Confederacy because of the flag.
“People have to understand from Tommy’s viewpoint and the viewpoint of his wife and employees that there is a lot of hostility directed toward Mr. Daras and his staff that he never asked for,” Daras’ lawyer Justin Bamberg told the Orangeburg newspaper.
Daras originally planned last week to build a 2-foot (60-centimeter) barrier he called a “freedom wall” around his restaurant and take down the Confederate flag and marker. He received a building permit and started to mark where the wall would go.
Before he could proceed, the Sons of Confederate Veterans heard about his plans and put barricades on their tiny parcel. The city then ordered him to stop work on the permitted project.
The “city is not going to be the venue to resolve any property dispute of property owners,” Orangeburg City Administrator John Yow said.
Daras tried earlier this year to get the city zoning board to order the flag removed, but the board said in August that the banner didn’t violate zoning laws. That decision is being appealed.
The Sons of Confederate member who watches over the flag said the group will continue to fight because it is right.
“It is ours, bo,” Joseph Braxton said. “It’s got to be. Our deed is ten years older than his. The city of Orangeburg collects taxes on us. They think we own it.”