The Confederate flag hung from a pole attached to a “barn” for county vehicles and equipment at Flagler County’s Princess Place Preserve, the public park, for weeks. County employees–rangers, public works–came and went daily. They said nothing and did nothing. It belonged to a county volunteer married to a county employee.
Gail Durrance and her husband Stephen have lived rent-free as caretakers of the preserve in a mobile home next to the “barn” for nearly 23 years. The caretaker property is not easily visible from the dirt road wending through the preserve, and it’s delineated by “private residence” and “authorized personnel only” signs. But it’s not invisible. It’s daily frequented by county employees, a hiking trail skirts the parcel, and it remains public property, part of the preserve’s 1,500 acres of protected wilderness and curated parkland that the county refers to as “the crown jewel of Flagler County’s preserves.”
Months ago Gail mail-ordered the Confederate flag after she said she was granted permission to hang it by a county park manager–and had a county employee hang it for her.
“Well, I don’t want to get Frank in trouble,” Gail Durrance said this morning, referring to Frank Barbuti, the Flagler County parks manager, “but we were talking one day, he said, ‘Gail, you can put one up.’ I said, really? I didn’t put it up down there by the Legacy, you know. It’s right up here. He said I could. I asked him. He said you can have one, it’s your heritage, Gail.” The Legacy is a trail. “I just asked permission before I did anything. I had it in there for probably two months.” Why ask permission? “Well, this is county property,” she acknowledged.
“They’ve been up here, several of them have seen it, and they ain’t said nothing,” Durrance continued, referring by name to Mike Dickson, deputy to Heidi Petito, the county’s general services director. “He said nothing about the flag. Nobody said nothing to me, you know?”
Barbuti said today he never gave permission and didn’t know about the flag–had never seen it or noticed it in trips to the preserve. “I personally don’t remember seeing a flag flying up there,” Barbuti said. “I did not give them permission to fly a Confederate flag, that would not happen in my office.” He said he only learned about it today. “Someone had driven up there and saw the flag and complained, and the park ranger brought it to my attention today,” Barbuti said. After that conversation, Barbuti said he made Dickson aware of the issue.
“I know I’ve been around there but I don’t ever remember seeing it, honestly,” Dickson said in early afternoon, shortly after learning about it. “I would have told her that that would have been offensive to a great many people, and that she shouldn’t do it.”
By then, Durrance had removed the flag–not because any county employees told her to, but at the end of a nearly 40-minute interview with a reporter. “I can take it down, I’ll just take it down, the stink down,” she said, walking over to the flag and removing it from its socket. “I’ll take it off that pole, fold it up, keep it, put it in my Bible. I just don’t want to cause no trouble for the county, because you know I’ve been here a long time, it’s a shame that somebody wants to mess with me, you know? I’m not a mean person. I’m a sweet person. I can’t help what happened back in the day.”
She then said what appeared to contradict her claim that she’d gotten explicit permission before. “I know they’re going to want me to take it down,” she said, now acknowledging what she hadn’t for the 40 previous minutes: that the flag could be problematic. “You know they’re going to be on my butt.” Her husband had told her to take it down the day before, when the couple learned that someone had complained.
Several times Durrance had said she could remove the flag from the spot on the barn but wondered where else she could put it–on her golf cart, against the side of the home that’s not visible from the road, in her boat. But by the time she called county offices later in the day, she was apologetic and said she would not be putting it back up.
“We refrain from displaying any offensive materials that would offend any person’s belief. We absolutely did not give anyone permission to display the Confederate flag in any one of our parks,” Petito said. Petito was told of the issue not by Dickson or Barbuti, but by Julie Murphy, the public information officer. By then Barbuti had been to the Durrance home. “Frank had talked to her and had explained to her–at the county we take a stance of providing a positive, productive environment.”
It’s not clear why other employees had not spoken of the flag to supervisors until a visitor spoke to a ranger Monday. “I don’t know what the mindset would be for the employees not to say anything,” Petito said.
That visitor was Ralph Lightfoot, a Palm Coast resident since he retired from IBM in 2004 and a frequent visitor to the preserve: as the former chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee, he was there every Creekside Festival, the two-day event, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, that draws thousands. Lightfoot, who is the same age as Durrance–70–was at the preserve Monday because he was preparing for visitors coming from out of town. He was with his wife Agnes, the Realtor, scouting a good place for a cookout at the park. Along the way he said he and his wife thought they saw something through the woods that looked awfully similar to a Confederate flag.
Lightfoot spoke to a ranger about it and asked what was back there. “He told me exactly where the place was, so I went back and went up there and took a look at it,” Lightfoot said. He never went onto the grounds of the mobile home itself, but was close enough to take a couple of pictures that show the flag through the brush, visible enough even from the fence with the “authorized personnel only” signs.
“Whenever I see the flag it’s a reminder of how much lynching occurred here in Florida,” Lightfoot said. “It’s just a reminder of bad things. Nothing good comes out of that whenever I see it. If it’s her own property that’s fine, she can fly whatever she wants. But not on public property, and it is somewhat visible from the road.”
Lightfoot said he doesn’t agree with the idea of the flag as “heritage,” as Durrance described it. “Well, you can have that flag, just fold it up and put it in the same place where you keep the rest of your memorabilia but if you’re living and occupying public space that the public pays for, you don’t have the right to display that flag. It’s divisive. These days we need to come together. It’s like the guys who drive around with that flag in the back of their truck, it’s very divisive. It’s actually a sign a treason.”
Durrance had spoken of those very “guys” to justify her decision to hang the flag. “I have boys that come in here all the time with ‘em on their trucks, bigger than mine,” she said, “they go flying them around in the park, you know what I’m saying?”
She said she was born and raised until age 7 in Birmingham, Ala., before living for years in St. Augustine. Good natured, easy to laugh, affable, she considers herself a “southern girl” and loves her heritage. “It’s just ridiculous, all this petty stuff. It’s something I like to look at, I’m 70, just turned 71, I just like to look at it there, I think of my grandfather and my uncles and all that, you know. I wasn’t raised up to hate nobody,” she said, sitting in the shade from 91-degree heat, in the spot she likes to sit and smoke–and look at the flag.
She calls people who complain about the flag “babies,” and complains about other recent constraints she was well aware of. “They took all of our statues down, yes sir, and I don’t think that’s right,” Durrance said. “They fought the war just like anybody else. And I’ll tell you something else: if it weren’t for slavery, there wouldn’t be black people in this country, you know? I was raised by a lady, and she… her name was Trudy and I loved her to death and she raised me when I was a little kid. She was paid well. She loved all of us. We loved her.”
She muses about other places she could display the flag, but says inside the house isn’t a good place. “It’s not that pretty,” she says of the flag. She concedes she’s on public property. “Yes, but I rent this place, so it’s mine until I leave,” she said. Actually, she doesn’t pay rent, just the electricity. She speaks of the house she just bought in St. Augustine–and also concedes that she couldn’t fly the Confederate flag there, even though it’s private property: it’s controlled by a homeowners’ association, she thinks.
“I just don’t understand it,” she continues. “I talk to a lot of black people down there in the park, I talk to all of them. I don’t hate people, you know? I was in school, and then we got integrated, and they had the white water fountain and the black water fountain. I never quite could understand that. And then the white bathroom, the black bathroom. And then they changed it, and then my father set me down, oh lord, he says, you might have to sit with them in school, you might have to drink water out of the water fountain behind them, because they’re changing all that out, girls, and as a matter of fact I was friends with two or three of them in my class. I liked them, we all used to talk and everything, have lunch together. I didn’t pay no mind to that stuff.”
She speaks of one of the county workers who’s in and out of the barn at the preserve and sees the flag. “There’s a black guy that works here. It doesn’t bother him. He says it was the Dukes of Hazzard.” (The Confederate flag was painted on the roof of the Dodge Charger driven by the two leads of the early 1980s television series.) “I got my American flag too,” Durrance says. “They need to get with the history.”
To Lightfoot, it’s not history. It’s a side of Flagler County that preserves a troubling past, and that seems to have rippling consequences. “It’s Flagler County, and we don’t have any elected black officials in the county,” he said. (The last black official briefly served one term on the Bunnell City Commission, until two years ago. The last county-wide office held by a black official goes back to the middle of the last decade, when Jim Guines was a school board member. The county commission has never had a black member.) “Every time we run one even if they’re qualified, they lose. Flagler County was the last county to integrate the schools, so there’s still a lot of that around. It’s unfortunate that this would even be happening today.”
And there was this: for all his years in Richmond, Va., he said, “I have never been called a nigger. The first time I was called a nigger was right here in Flagler County, after I retired. I lived my entire life in Virginia. I retired, I was 58, 59, and the first time I was called a nigger was right here in Flagler County. I made a turn, I made a mistake on a turn, driving, and this guy, this old guy, hollered out the window, ‘get your head out your ass, nigger.’ Even in Virginia, I didn’t experience that, which was amazing.”
But Lightfoot spoke with relish about what Durrance had hours earlier mourned: the changing of the guard on monument alleys. Just last weekend, Lightfoot’s hometown, Richmond, renamed a major avenue after Arthur Ashe, still the only black man to win Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open. The avenue crosses Monument Avenue, which is still lined with the statue of Confederate soldiers–and now a statue of Arthur Ashe among them. “Amazing sight,” Lightfoot said.
Steve Robinson says
We have yet to discover a cure for ignorance.
Im literally so sick of the war this place has over the confederate flag. It’s not about rascism. The flag has nothing to do with someone being called the n word. Like grow up already people.
You can pretend all you want, but that flag is used as a symbol of hatred.
People, WAKE UP. It’s a flag. Soo many soft ass people now days. Good thing the people, that fought under that flag, wasn’t as soft…
Not only is the flag a symbol for racists….it is a major symbol of disrespect to the USA. Sad that many of the MAGA crowd fly flags that America literally went to war with, in this and the nazi flag. People like Kaepernick are seen as being disrespectful to the nation but this flag is not? Wake up….this is true disrespect to the nation.
Don’t care how you put it this will always be an issue . My friends kid was in summer camp at BTMS last week and a white. Flagler county Deputy made a racist comment about white power in front of other kids .!!!!! This is where we are as a society !!!
Jon Hardison says
Unfortunately, what it means to you isn’t up for debate. What it actually means is beyond contestation.
The ‘rebel flag’, a rejected flag of the Confederacy, was meant to represent the confederacy and all it stood for.
You could argue that it’s not about ‘racism’ but you would be wrong. The Declarations of Secession from each confederate state are and have always been publicly available. Read them – or don’t.
But what they all say is essentially the same thing. We’re leaving the United States because The United States will not allow us to continue to own slaves.
If you’d like to read some of them:
It wasn’t about ‘state’s rights’. It was about ‘a state’s right to own people’.
Flying the confederate flag or rebel flag isn’t about heritage. It’s a quiet way of screaming out, “The South Shall Rise Again!”, fantasizing about a pending treason, and in so doing, making sure every person of color that sees it knows – assholes and elbows – that you believe they belong under your boot.
But we sure are sure sorry you’re sick of hearing about it. I can’t imagine what it must be like to constantly have to tell people what that flag isn’t about. It must be hell to have to explain that to your kids and the people that come to visit your home. You’re probably right. We should just shut the fuck up about it already.
PS: There was a sign on the Hammock Bridge once. It said, “No Blacks after 8PM”.
It was there until 1973 when an ITT Sales VP ripped it out and through it into the river because local government refused to do a damed thing.
It’s about racism.
L. Hendrickson says
The confederate flag stands for Slavery. The confederate flag stands for a terrible war in which men were willing to fight to the death in order to keep a race of people enslaved. In fact, 620,000 men died which equaled 2% of the U. S. population at that time. It wasn’t until Vietnam that we had more men dying, yet at a lower % of the nation’s population. There is no honor nor good about the confederate flag. The only place it belongs is in a museum explaining it’s terrible legacy. In addition, I know Palm Coast has rules about what kind of flags you are allowed to display and the confederate flag is NOT one of them. Does Flagler County have the same laws? If Flagler County does, then this woman was violating the law.
Maybe the flag was up there because they thought trump was coming to town.
I think if you choose to honor the confederate flag, you choose to not honor America. Thus, you should be deported by ICE to Guatemala and replaced with someone who would die to be here.
There’s enough stupid right here in Florida to free up hundreds of thousands of beds in Customs detention centers.
Jon Hardison says
I don’t believe any municipal ban on that flag would stand up to a legal challenge, nor should it.
I don’t have a problem with people flying it if that’s what they believe.
What I take issue with is flying that flag while insisting it’s not about slavery / racism. If you hate or wish to remain separate from non-whites, fly that flag all day. But don’t be a pussy about it when someone calls you out on your bullshit. Don’t hang it next to my flag. You know – the one that kicked your flags ass and would be more than happy to do it again – and try to claim you’re somehow MORE American because of it. LOL!
Rise already, or STFU and join the hundreds of millions of people that try, every day, not to hate. Granted, some days are easier than others.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion. However, what happens on public lands is different than how we feel about something personally. How can the managers that are out at the Princess Place property pretty regularly not notice this? I can’t fault Mrs Durrance, but I do fault the people that should have been making what is and is not acceptable on county owned land. When will these managers start acting like they deserve to be in charge?
Why no outrage over the slaves own people who captured and sold them originally?
Flagler Native says
The Hammock dunes bridge was built well after 1973…
Helena Sousa says
I am saddened, to think that in 2019 there are still those that want to fly a Confederate flag. I see it in Flagler County often,and I ask myself, “what can make people so hateful?” The Confederate flag is a symbol of hatred , greed and a false feeling of supremacy. Let’s stop this hatred! The world is becoming ever smaller, you will never have a white dominated society again, thank goodness! We are better with diversity, understanding, and compassion for one another.
Willy Boy says
Hadn’t seen “that word” in full print in awhile.
Solo Yanks says
This flag serves no positive purpose. It is a symbol of division. It stands for the South in the Civil War and that war is over and the South lost.
Why does the South keep fighting ? It’s over and so is this insulting flag.
OMG ! I can see it now the final battle of the Civil War right here in Flagler County. The battle over the Confederate flag and the 1 amendment.
You all are so rediciulios!
Offended by a flag? You’re just as bad as these entitled 18 year old kids protesting.(without an education)
What a joke. Half of you are in your 50’s, with nothing to do but complain about a flag that’s,
probably 3×5. Go play tennis or knit something. Before you croak.
Flags, statues, crosses, reparations, maga hats, Trump signs on lawns, – Christ help us, we have gone totally off the deep end..
The Realist says
As a County building no flag other than an American or State flag should be displayed, But I am betting if it was a rainbow flag hanging in the same spot, the snowflakes on here would be calling it courageous and moving.
Born and Raised Here says
County Employee should know better.
All your posts…Very well put.
To all of you associating the Confesarte Flag with Trump, conservatives, republicans etc… you are just ensuring Trump will win again in 2020. The more you call those on the right racists, homophobes, anti-muslim, anti immigration…. the more the silent majority who are far from having those attitudes will come out of the woodwork and vote for him again. So please keep it up…. it just ensures the path of the Democrat party the path to irrelevancy.
Percy's mother says
There’s nothing wrong with the Confederate flag, and nothing wrong with flying the Confederate flag.
I thought we were living in a free country.
The progressive (left) has created hatred out of just about everything . . . in an effort to divide and conquer.
If you want to walk around with a chip on your shoulder for every imagined slight in life please do so, but please let the rest of us live in peace . . . the way things used to be.
The Confederate flag never stood for slavery.
If the woman wants to fly a Confederate flag, by all means, she should be able to fly a Confederate flag. Those who want to take offense will find a myriad of ways to take offense to other imagined slights in life.
Hey Londa and Helena, the flag is not a symbol of hatred – it is a trigger for yours.
The flag is in support of the south. The only people throwing the racism word around are the blacks who are better off now then in their entire life.
THURSTON HOWEL III says
The Flag is about Southern Heritage! I am so sick of people vilifying that Flag! My great, great Grandfather was a Confederate Soldier and I am PROUD of that! The Flag just means that you are from the South! PERIOD! People need to GET OVER IT!!
All you people complaining about a flag that represents the south and is displayed In the south. If you don’t agree with it or if you don’t like it, take your butt back north where your oversensitive self came from. Simple as that, Bye!
It’s a symbol of hatred, white supremacist ideology, a backwards regional cultural mindset. It may also be heritage, but folks need to toughen up and realize perhaps their heritage ain’t too much to be proud of. The south lost for a reason. The south was inferior, and will remain inferior as long as they refuse to disavow their shameful past.
Slavery, Jim Crow laws, black codes, convict lease laws, anti-miscegenation,lynching, racism, racial terrorism, voter and civil right suppression. The South has a “proud” heritage indeed.
In my heart…its a symbol of traitors.
Raymond W. Ryals says
To ALL that are condemning the Confederate Flag…Research a bit. The Flag was only used from 1861-1865. It originally was the Flag of the CSA Navy and later a battle flag for ground troops. Slavery was banned in the US in 1862. From 1619-1862 Slavery was legal in the United States. Slaves brought into the Colonies and after 1776 , the newly formed United States, were brought in slave ships flying the following flags and possibly other countries also. The flags I mention are…Spain, France, Britain, and OMG the UNITED STATES Flag!!!! I ask you, why would you condemn a flag that you declare to be a “symbol of slavery” and yet not flags that were ACTUALLY flown on ships carrying people that were to be used as slaves? Hypocrites I call you.
CB from PC says
I am a graduate of Gettysburg College and have studied the causes and after-effects of the the American Civil War.
The fact is that segregation, the revival of the Klan, the lynchings in the South, and Jim Crow laws were all a product of the Southern political machine controlled by the Southern Democrats, AKA “Dixiecrats”. This occurred after the end of Reconstruction, which enforced policies, including giving African-Americans the right to vote, as started by Lincoln, the Republican President of the Union.
The Confederate Battle Flag was resurrected (and dishonored) by these Southern Democrats.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee had ordered it folded, never to fly again, on his surrender at Appomattox.
Now you know who the real “haters” and “racists” are.
As the Realist said, I bet if it was a rainbow flag the lawyers would be lining up to defend it and believe it or not some people find that offensive!
@Percy’s mother…I feel you…aren’t you tired of women complaining about equal rights, equal pay, equal opportunity etc etc?…let’s just go back to the way it was!
@Shameless liars, racists, and bigots – keep digging.
Self-described Nazis and white supremacists are running as Republicans across the country. The GOP is terrified.
There IS a reason today’s KKK, Nazis, et al, unanimously choose the Republican party.
When I see the Stars and Bars, I think about the bravery and dedication of the southern soldiers and citizens.
Mr. Reese says
You can’t fix stupid!!
@ Flagler Native, Jon Hardison was referring to the moody bridge leading into Flagler Beach. But I’m sure you knew that.
What Ever says
Pogo really!!! Do your homework. If you can.
Listen up and hear me well, you can think what you want. It makes NO DIFFERENCE. The Stars& Bars WILL ALWAYS be the PRIDE of the SOUTH. May she fly FOREVER !
The SOUTH SHALL RISE AGAIN !!!!
Vincent Lyon says
Anyone who flies The Confederate battle flag is extending a middle finger to the Stars and Stripes
And I defend their right to do that, because talking fondly about treason is speech, and speech is your right.
But take no steps toward that treason, and know that the flag only became a symbol of “the South” during segregation as a gesture of opposition to the Civil Rights Movement. It was originally a rally sign for armed rebellion in the sake of maintaining slavery, then became a symbol for keeping the “races” separate and unequal.
You may think it’s your “heritage” but remember it’s a heritage of racism. It’s a heritage of treason. It’s a heritage of oppression.
We’re there brave soldiers fighting under that flag? Absolutely. But brave men have fought and died on every side of every war, and at least half of them were in the wrong.
So I defend your right to proudly display your history of racism and treason
But don’t do it on public land that I help pay for.
The South lost, get over it!!!
What Evet says
I want to hear Mr. Lightfoot opinion on people kneeling during the nation anthem during public events. If he is all USA, then prove it. He needs to quit complaining over a flag that is in history.
How the persistence of the Confederacy led to the Charleston slaughter?
What always cracks me up about people that fly the rebel flag is they claim it’s nothing to do about racism or hate yet its blatantly obvious it is.
My only hope is that this couple isn’t buying the house next to the one being built for my wife and me in St Augustine. This whole scenario could repeat EXCEPT for the fact that it is HOA ruled and that is serious deterence to just about everything you can imagine by way of freedom of expression in a public way. The windows are way too small to get a glimpse of anything inside so while I am cutting my future lawn I don’t imagine being offended by the Stars and Bars she might have stapled to the wall.
The whole story is fishy from Jump Street: lots of folks off all persuasion visit the Princess Preserve including myself. Its a publicly funded park and should be devoid of all banners save the Stars and Stripes and those that proclaim it to be a park, thats it. Your so-called southern heritage as embodied by the Stars and Bars had its colors struck at Appomattox and should have been retired to obscurity, out of the public eye. Any public display of same is an act of treason even to this day and needs to be removed regardless of your heritage, your dead and your sentiments about the lost glory of the South. Get over it and be content to be an American, fly the Stars and Stripes if you must have some banner to worship.
I bet if it was a martin luther king jr or black lives matter flag it would be offensive to take them down. This crap is ridiculous! Let her fly her flag!
Iva Hadit says
That rag on a stick has no place on public property. Period.
I try my best to see both sides of everything,at my job there is a mix of all races , my best friend is black, his opinion of the confederate flag is that it stands for southern heritage,not racism,as a matter of fact he doesnt say civil war , he says “northern war of aggression against the south” wears confederate flag t-shirts and bandanas,and claims his ancestors and many other blacks fought against what he calls yankees. He lives on water plant road in st augustine(redneck territory) and fits right in with all his neighbors and flies a confederate flag at his house, as do most of his neighbors.On the flip side ,in the 70’s I worked with a lot of black people and most of them did not care for the confederate flag. My personal opinion is that the confederate flag is a part of history,good or bad, I dont fly it ,I fly the gadsden flag, which I’m sure someone wont like , however I know what the gadsden flag means and proudly fly it and the stars and bars as well.
Bob, Why or how could a MLK or BLM flag be offensive to anyone when either one would stand for justice and peace? While the rebel flag stands for racism hatred and oppression.