SUMMERVILLE — A woman who once vowed she'd die before taking down the Confederate battle flag flying at her house in a mostly black community said Thursday she's had a change of heart.
"There comes a time and a place where things need to be set aside for the betterment of others," said Annie Caddell, who lives in the Brownsville community. "I can still honor my relatives that died in the Civil War without flying the flag."
After a recent heart attack and triple bypass surgery, Caddell, 58, said she started "reflecting on every choice that I've made." She apologizes to anyone she offended, she said.
Shortly after moving into the small brick ranch on West 1st North Street in mid-2010, Caddell hung Confederate and American flags from her porch and decorated her yard with Confederate insignia, other knickknacks and seasonal decorations.
It was about her heritage, she said at the time. Her ancestors fought for the Confederacy. She didn’t see it as a symbol of racism.
But her neighbors did.
That fall, more than 270 signed a petition asking the town to step in, but officials said Caddell had a right to fly the flag. Protesters marched past her house, singing “We Shall Overcome.”
In early 2011, neighbors kicked in money to erect 8-foot wooden fences along the property line on both sides of Caddell’s house, blocking views of the flag from everywhere except in front.
Caddell responded by raising her flagpoles higher.
She said she would die before she would remove the flag.
Now that has changed.
"After seven long years of battling my community over my Confederate flag, I made the decision that I would like to have unity in my community," she said Thursday.
With help from a friend, Caddell took down the divisive banner Wednesday, replacing it with a blue and white state flag.
"I made up my mind that I don't have to hurt anybody because of a decision I made without much thought," she said. "I never considered how offended they truly were. I didn't care. Well, I finally had an eye-opening experience. It's not about what I feel."
Caddell consulted Community Resource Center founder Louis Smith, who has recently tangled with groups displaying the flag at the town's Christmas parade and Flowertown Festival.
"I told her we would do it honorably," Smith said. "This was not a time for high-fiving. This was a solemn occasion. These were people that fought for a cause, even though what they stood for I adamantly oppose."
They gave the flag to Summerville-Dorchester Museum past president Ken Battle, who plans to hand it over to the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
"What we've been hearing is that the flag should come down and be placed in a museum," Battle said. "We offered to host such an exhibit, but we are still researching what it would look like."
Caddell's standoff started more than five years before confessed murderer and self-avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof walked into Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston and shot nine people at a Bible study. In the wake of the shootings, photos of Roof posing with a Confederate flag spurred state lawmakers into removing the banner from the top of the Statehouse.
"We feel that we would be a proper host for an exhibit where we would be able to talk about the difference between history and hatred," Battle said. "It's all about healing. It's time to act as adults and do what's necessary for our community."