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Lorain County Fair: Confederate flag controversy provides teachable moment

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    Lorain County Historical Society Educational Coordinator Jim Smith speaks about the history of both the United States flags and Confederate flags at the Lorain County Fair on Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 24.


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    Confederate flags were displayed at the Lorain County fair for fair-goers to purchase on Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 24.


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    Confederate flags were displayed at the Lorain County fair for fair-goers to purchase on Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 24.



WELLINGTON — In the Antiques Barn at the Lorain County Fair, an original Confederate flag hangs next to a series of American flags that have represented the expanding United States over the centuries.

The Confederate flag on display isn’t the flag with the blue X with stars on a field of red that jumps to the minds of most people when they think of the flag of the Confederacy, according to Jim Smith, an educational coordinator for the Lorain County Historical Society and the man responsible for the flag history display at the fairgrounds this week.

Although commonly referred to as the Confederate flag, Smith said that flag actually represented the largely ineffectual Confederate Navy and a smaller version served as a battle flag for the army.

Smith said he’s not taking sides in the dispute over whether the Confederate battle flag should be bought and sold at the fair, a controversy now entering its second year.

He said many people see it as a symbol of Southern pride and heritage, but others see it tinged by the cause of slavery and its adoption as a symbol by the Ku Klux Klan. Even if racism wasn’t in its original meaning, it’s there now for many people, he said.

“It is now, but it wasn’t then,” Smith said.

Smith said he saw the controversy as an opportunity to educate people about the flags that have represented the country over the years and that includes explaining what the original Confederate flag looked like. It’s got two red stripes and a white stripe and circle of stars inside a blue field.

“Flags are symbolism,” he said. “If you’re flying it and you see it as a positive thing, then it’s a positive thing, but if you see it as a negative thing, then it’s a negative thing.”

Although the Fair Board has previously said it considered the sale of the Confederate flag a free speech issue, board President Brian Twining declined to comment Wednesday, citing the board’s new policy of not discussing the controversy.

Critics have argued that the flag is a symbol of divisiveness and hate, particularly after photos of alleged shooter in a racially-motivated mass shooting at a black church in South Carolina last year posing with the flag surfaced.

An organization calling itself the Fair Minded Coalition of Lorain County has launched a petition to pressure the Fair Board into reversing its policy, saying the continued sale of the flag violates a separate fair rule that allows the board to ban “concessions of questionable nature.”

The group successfully convinced several organizations and public officials not to have an official presence at the fair this year.

Jeanine Donaldson, who heads up the Fair Minded Coalition, which is hosting an American flag event 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday at Veterans Park in Lorain, said the group will continue to push for change until it is successful.

“We’re going to get it done, it’s just a matter of time,” she said.

Russell Bissett, who was one of several vendors selling the controversial flag Wednesday, said he hasn’t heard any complaints about the Confederate flags he’s selling in his booth. He said he’s sold out of the flags he originally had and needed to order more to keep up with demand.

“I had 200 people yesterday thank me for standing up for the flag,” he said. “I haven’t had one person complain.”

Bissett said he always checks in with the organizers of the fair or festival he’s attending to see if Confederate flag sales are allowed and he did so again with the Lorain County Fair this year and was told it wasn’t a problem.

“People made a big to-do over nothing,” he said.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or Follow him on Twitter @BradDickenCT.

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