WELLINGTON — Proponents of banning the sale of the Confederate flag at the Lorain County Fair said Monday that they have scrapped plans to stage a demonstration and other events in Wellington during the fair next week in light of the violence that erupted this weekend in Charlottesville, Va.
Jeanine Donaldson, who heads up the Fair Minded Coalition of Lorain County, said at a news conference in Ely Square that members of her group were concerned that protests could draw supporters of the Confederate flag to Wellington and create problems.
“We’re reconsidering what actions we will be doing in Wellington, if we take any action at all,” Donaldson, flanked by supporters and fellow coalition members, said. “It’s basically because if people can come out and do what they did in Charlottesville, Virginia, what’s stopping those same people that are pro selling the flag at the fair from organizing and coming down to Lorain County?”
Controversy has swirled around the Confederate flag since 2015 when county Commissioner Matt Lundy tried unsuccessfully to convince the Fair Board to prevent vendors from selling the flag. The controversy has led the Lorain County Democratic Party and several elected Democrats to stop setting up booths at the fair in recent years.
Lundy said the Confederate flag was too closely tied to the events in Virginia not to make the connection that similar events could break out in Lorain County, especially as the coalition has not wavered in its request of the fair board.
“As we looked at the videos, and as we looked at the frames of pictures on Facebook of that rally, there was one constant and that constant was the Confederate flag,” Lundy said. “The flag clearly is a symbol of hate, not love. The flag clearly is a divisive symbol, not a symbol used to unite us … This flag doesn’t represent the family values of Lorain County.”
Coalition members also held a moment of silence for Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old woman killed after a car crashed into demonstrators counter-protesters of the rally, and also acknowledged the two Virginia state troopers killed when a police helicopter crashed near the rally.
Jeanine Donaldson, center, leads a rally with supporters from around the county Monday at Ely Square in Elyria as The Fair Minded Coalition of Lorain County makes an announcement about its anti-Confederate flag efforts.
BRUCE BISHOP / CHRONICLE Enlarge
Donaldson also said Monday that the sale of the flag goes against the Fair Board’s own rules, which ban the sale of objectionable material.
The Fair Board however, has long contended that allowing the sale of the flag to continue is a free speech issue.
Fair Board President Brian Twining and member Kim Meyers said Monday if they were to halt the sale of one thing that people complained about, it would likely lead to other requests to ban merchandise such as Chief Wahoo gear for Indians fans or even the booths of pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion groups that both have space at the fair.
“We probably have more complaints from people who don’t appreciate being handed Bibles and verses for the day,” Twining said.
He also said that just because the Fair Board allows the Confederate flag to be sold during fair week, that doesn’t mean the members support racism and don’t condemn the violence in Virginia or the racially motivated attack on a historically black church in South Carolina by Dylann Roof that left nine dead.
“Are they saying that because we allow Confederate merchandise to be sold we’re white supremacists?” Twining said.
Meyers also said the issue of possible legal action has nothing to do with the desire of the Fair Minded Coalition to ban the flag, but rather with the group’s tactics.
“There’s a line we feel that’s being crossed here,” Meyers said.
He said the group has sent out letters to vendors, Fair Board members and others suggesting that the fair is allowing underage drinking to run rampant at the fairgrounds.
“In discussing this matter with other individuals in the community and with community organizations, we’ve learned that your board has also been resistant to recognize the potential problems of alcohol consumption, especially underage drinking during Fair Week,” Donaldson wrote in a May 4 letter to Fair Board members.
Meyers and Twining said underage drinking isn’t an issue that they’re aware of at the fair. They said those who oversee youth organizations and events are subject to background checks.
Meyers also said that opponents who have tried to convince vendors and entertainers to skip the fair are trying to interfere with legal contracts, which can open them up to a lawsuit.
For instance, representatives of Kenny Loggins, scheduled to perform at the fair next week, received several emails sent by way of the singer’s website complaining about his decision to perform at the fair, Meyers said.
He said the fair’s attorney has sent a letter to the Fair Minded Coalition telling them to stop trying to interfere with contracts and defaming the Fair Board by making unfounded accusations of underage drinking.
Donaldson said she hasn’t received the letter, but that at a Fair Board meeting last week, the group was threatened with legal action.
“In my world that means they are threatening to sue us. I don’t know if that was an intimidation tactic, but I guess it did make me fearful. But fearful in a different way than what they anticipated,” Donaldson said. “It made me fearful because if they are this vehement about keeping the sale of the Confederate flag at the fair, if they are more concerned about a few vendors than they are about hundreds and thousands of Lorain County citizens and people from across the country that want the flag removed, then we have a problem. In exercising our free speech as a coalition, their response is, ‘we will sue you.’ ”
The Lorain County Urban League also announced Monday that it will host a Unity Day Celebration 4-6 p.m. Sept. 17 at the Stocker Center at Lorain County Community College featuring the Rev. Joel King Jr.
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