A dispute over the Confederate flag has now become a fight over real estate, with two groups claiming ownership over the patch of land where it stands.
The owner of the Edisto River Creamery wants the flag and a marker removed from the patch of land in front of his restaurant. On Monday, he began digging around the monument.
"I have donated the monument to the Sons of Confederates chapter in Santee," Creamery owner Tommy Daras said. He left a message to arrange the pickup.
“If they don't call in a few days, then I will have to make a decision where else or who else or anyone who wants the monument. I don't want to disgrace the monument in any way. That is why I donated it,” he said.
The Creamery is located in the former home of Maurice’s Piggie Park, which was owned by the late Maurice Bessinger.
Bessinger donated a small plot of land to the Sons of Confederate Veterans Rivers Bridge Camp 842 for a flag and marker referencing Gen. William T. Sherman's crossing of the Edisto River.
But Daras says when he bought the restaurant, his deed also included the .003-acre parcel with the marker and flag.
"My deed says the property that was conveyed to Maurice Bessinger in 1990 is the exact same property that was conveyed to me. This includes all of this. Every inch of it,” he said.
SCV Camp 842 flag keeper Joseph "Buzz" Braxton said the parcel of land belongs to the camp.
"It is ours, bo," he 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."
Daras obtained a building permit from the City of Orangeburg last week to construct a 2-foot high, 25-foot long “freedom wall” on the property at the corner of John C. Calhoun Drive and Russell Street.
The wall will include a 6-foot tall and 8-foot wide digital sign, Daras said. He says the Confederate flag will be brought down and an American flag will be put in its place. Plans for the wall include having the word “Freedom” embossed on it.
Daras began to mark out the property Thursday and even cut the concrete for the wall’s placement.
Receiving news of Daras’ intentions, the SCV placed barriers around the monument on Saturday morning.
Daras said within an hour of the barriers being placed up, the city issued a stop work order halting his work.
Orangeburg City Administrator John Yow said the, “city is not going to be the venue to resolve any property dispute of property owners.”
"The city has to use the official tax map parcels that are on record with the county," Yow said.
Daras said he contacted Orangeburg Department of Public Safety officials on Monday and was told the matter is a civil issue and police will not get involved at this time.
Daras then proceeded to remove the barriers to dig up the monument on Monday. The barriers were placed back up by SCV Commander Peter Boineau Monday evening.
Based on the reports he heard of the incident, Braxton questioned why the city let the original barriers be removed.
"I want to know why the d - - - City of Orangeburg does not have the courtesy to let anybody know that they allowed someone to go on somebody's else's property and destruct it," Braxton said.
Braxton added, "If he dug up around the marker, I hope the City of Orangeburg locks him up and throws away the key.”
When told that Daras wanted to donate the memorial to the Santee Chapter of the SCV, Braxton said “Do you think the SCV camp or any Sons of Confederate group will come and get that after all we have been through?"
He also noted the Edisto River doesn’t run through Santee. Braxton said no one is going to want a historical marker 30 miles away from the historical site.
Monday's developments are the latest in what has been a long-standing effort on Daras’ part to have the flag removed.
Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Bamberg, is working without pay on Daras’ behalf to have the flag removed. Bamberg, an attorney, says the flag was erected in violation of the city’s zoning.
He is appealing the Orangeburg Board of Zoning Appeals’ decision that the city’s zoning does not regulate flag poles. The decision allows the flag to remain at the site.
Bamberg said he defends his client's decision to proceed.
"At the end of the day, I am a lawyer and I advocate on behalf of my client," Bamberg said. "It is his business and Tommy has a deed that says he owns the entire piece of property and the SCV has a deed that says they own a tiny piece of property. That has yet to be determined in the court of law."
Bamberg said, "What no one wants is for things to become hostile to the point they become physical or anything like that.
"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."