ELYRIA — One woman has spent the past week protesting outside the YWCA of Elyria’s building at Fourth Street and West Avenue, sporting an American flag, Confederate flag and a homemade sign displaying the words “Educate stop the hate on history.”
Virginia Hesser, of Parma, has sometimes been joined in protest by other members of the Ohio’s Confederate Sisters and Brothers Rally, standing against the YWCA and Fair-minded Coalition’s billboard at the same corner. The billboard’s displays the message: “Keep your pledge! Say no to the Confederate flag at the Lorain County Fair.”
Hesser claims the organization’s billboard is spreading hate throughout the community, something she said has no place in Ohio.
“There’s a lot of destruction going on in this country, and we don’t need this in Ohio,” Hesser said. “Not in Ohio; Ohio does not do the hate thing, we love everybody. I don’t care what color you are, I don’t care what flag you fly. Do it, if that’s what makes you happy; if you don’t like it, walk past. Everybody else walks past, why is it all of a sudden just ‘Confederate flag?’”
Jeanine Donaldson, executive director of the Elyria and Lorain YWCAs, said it’s within Hesser’s right to protest outside the YWCA office.
“Her sign said ‘history, not hate,’ and she implied that the YWCA wasn’t teaching history accurately … but she has a right to do that and we didn’t take offense,” Donaldson said.
The billboard is one of three put up in the county by the Fair-minded Coalition originally in preparation for the Lorain County Fair. Since the state fair board banned the sale of the flag in 2015, some have called on the Lorain County fair board to do the same while others, like Hesser, disagree.
“This is the United States, I have every right to fly anything I choose to … and this was a war, basically a war between brothers, neighbors,” she said. “I mean literally, it drew lines through people’s yards. They took brother against brother. Everybody keeps screaming, ‘Oh it’s racist. Oh this and oh that. They had slaves,’ while they might want to educate themselves, because it’s out there where multicoloreds fought both Union and Confederate. And people don’t realize they’re condemning their own history.”
Hesser began standing outside the YWCA on Monday, and alleges she was assaulted that afternoon by a man who disagreed with her views.
According to Elyria police, Hesser reported the alleged assault at 10:30 p.m. Thursday. She told police that about 2 p.m. Monday an older white man had confronted her while she attempted to gain signatures on a petition to continue to allow the flag to be sold at the fair.
She said she did nothing wrong and the man walked up to her, called her a racist and, when she attempted to walk away from him, he grabbed her arm, causing her to drop her phone, according to the police report. She said he continued to pull her arm toward him until she told him her friend was going to call the police. He then left, returning to a house in the 400 block of West Avenue.
Elyria police Capt. Chris Costantino said the matter is under investigation and police have talked to the man involved, but no charges have been filed.
Despite the alleged incident, Hesser returned to her spot days later. She said that in general she’s received “overwhelming” support from passers-by.
“There were a couple kids that posted hate remarks but more overwhelmingly Lorain (County) people support this,” she said. “Not supporting the ‘Keep Your Pledge’ that Donaldson’s spitting out, the Fair-minded Coalition — they believe in America, they believe this is an (educated) country … and it’s great, I love seeing it.”
Hesser claimed the $600 for the billboard outside the YWCA came from donations, which Donaldson denied. Donaldson said the billboard, falling under the organization’s overarching mission to eradicate racism and empower women, was budgeted for and paid for by YWCA of Lorain. A private donation did pay for yard signs similar to the billboard, Donaldson said.
For Donaldson, the history Hesser promotes does not align with her organization.
“Everyone should feel welcome at the fair and … when she says it’s history and not hate, she’s talking about southern, white history, and up until the 1950s in the textbooks they taught that the Civil War was a just war and that … slaves enjoyed being enslaved because they (didn’t) know how else to take care of themselves,” she said. “We have a legacy of people being taught those kinds of ignorant things, and many people probably still feel that way. But we also know that for African-Americans in the South, they were treated badly … and businesses knew that if you had a Confederate flag emblem in your window that you were ‘one of us’ … and African-Americans left the South to escape that.”
Hesser said she is not racist and wants people to learn about, not eradicate, history.
“I stand on both sides,” Hesser said. “Like many other Americans, my family got split, too. Everybody’s family got split during this and it’s not just the Southern(ers). We moved around after coal mining dried up, towns dried up, we moved around, we’re everywhere. And a lot of us are afraid to say something because we’re going to be labeled ‘You’re racist.’ Or they’re going to say, ‘You’re a Republican.’ I mean, automatically I’m stereotyped and don’t judge me until you read the book.”
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