A change of heart brings down a Confederate flag, brings a community together

SUMMERVILLE, S.C. -- A neighborhood in Summerville, South Carolina, is predominately black, and no one cared when Annie Caddell moved in seven years ago. At least, according her neighbor Juanita Edwards, no one cared at first.

"When she came here she seemed to be very nice," Juanita said. "A little while later she started putting up Confederate flags. Every morning when I would walk out to get my newspaper, that's the first thing you'd see. My husband stopped going to get the newspaper in the morning."

And so began a very public fight. When the neighbors protested in front of her house, Annie invited counter protesters to stand in her yard. When the neighbors put up walls on both sides of her property to block the view, Annie put up a taller flag pole. Her brazenness made international news.

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Annie Caddell CBS News

"Once you get my hackles raised I don't back down," she said at the time. "I don't make no apologies."

Eventually the war settled into a stalemate, of sorts. There were no more marches, no bigger walls, no taller flag poles, just a quiet bitterness on both sides. Until just recently, when Annie had a change of heart -- quite literally.

"When you have a heart attack and you're being told you're not gonna live very long, you're facing your mortality," Annie said. "I needed to clean up the messes that I made by being so stubborn, and I have asked anyone within earshot to forgive me."

She started with one of her fiercest critics, director of the local Community Resource Center, Louis Smith.

"She said, 'I have decided to take down the flag,' and I was like, huh? I couldn't believe it," said Louis.

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Annie Caddell and Louis Smith CBS News

Not long after, she presented him with the flag. Today a South Carolina flag flies in its place and Annie is hopeful the walls will be the next to go. She's already getting waves from neighbors and enjoying her new perspective on the world.

"If all species of birds can get along why can't we," Annie said.

I asked her if we can get people to be less stubborn without a heart attack. "That would be lovely," she replied. "But sometimes it takes a serious action to happen to you before you see your actions on others."

Annie says before she only saw the Confederate flag through her eyes, as a way to honor relatives who fought for the South. But now she says she cares more about her living neighbors than her dead relatives.

"I think I've done more honor for them now than I've done in my whole life," she said.  

With that, our divide country inches just a little closer. 

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.