LORAIN — What to do with the Confederate flag at the Lorain County Fair?
That’s the question still on the minds of the Fair-minded Coalition of Lorain County, which said this week it wants to make the Lorain County Fair a more “family friendly” event by ending the sale and display of the Confederate flag.
A discussion Thursday night, facilitated by Caroline Meister of the YWCA of Elyria and the Rev. Alex Barton of the Church of the Redeemer in Lorain, brought a dozen Lorain County residents, Oberlin College students and visitors to the Episcopal church on Reid Avenue to talk about the issue.
Those in opposition to the flag and its presence at the fair said it represents slavery and hate. They want the fair to be more inclusive, and that means no Confederate flags.
The Lorain County Fair Board calls the flag “Civil War memorabilia” and its concessions manager said Friday the board will continue to allow the sale of the flag, as other fairs do.
For the past three years, the coalition has waged a battle to rid the county fair of the flag. It bought three billboards in the county featuring the American flag and the saying “Keep your pledge.”
Two of those billboards were defaced, Meister said. So far, the fair board remains “dug in” and won’t ban the flag, she said.
Kim Meyers, chairman of the fair board’s midway and concessions committee, said Friday the board’s decision on the sale of Confederate flags remains the same as it has for decades.
“The board has made the decision, and the decision will not change. The decision is that we will continue to allow the sale of Civil War memorabilia, including the Confederate flag,” he said. The coalition “should know that from discussions before and comments in the paper.”
Meyers said there aren’t many Confederate flags at the fair to begin with, even if opponents of the flag “would like you to believe that everyone has them and sells them.”
“There’s one vendor that has two of them,” he said.
Barton said “racism and white supremacy is all over” the U.S., and many people view the Confederate flag as a symbol of both.
Barton said even the Episcopalian Church was complicit in slavery and the Civil War and has had to come to terms with its own history: Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Confederate Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk all were Episcopalians.
Polk was the former bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana, politically appointed to a generalship and later killed by a shell fired by an artillery battery from Ohio during combat in Georgia in June 1864.
But “to know the truth is part of how we get free,” Barton said, wondering “where the fair board’s clergy are in this” discussion.
Most of those in attendance were clear on how they felt about the flag. Joseph Peek of Lorain, who is black, said his family is originally from Jacksonville, Florida. He said he doesn’t know any black people who wear or support the Confederate flag.
“You mark yourself when you put that flag on” and know what it stands for, he said. “I don’t like the flag. Black people don’t fly that flag. It was and always has been an issue.”
David Ashenhurst, of Oberlin, said some retailers have refused to stock the flag or memorabilia featuring it on their shelves.
“Walmart said it’s not going to (sell the Confederate flag) anymore. Target said it’s not going to do it anymore,” he said. “In this context, this sticks out like a sore thumb.”
Ashenhurst also said he supports civic groups who decided to boycott the fair.
“You want to register voters? There are plenty of other places you can register voters,” he said.
For his part, Meyers said he was “not in a position to discuss my personal opinions” about the flag when asked what he believes it represents.
“I support the board’s decision,” he said. “We will allow the sale of Civil War memorabilia going along with what the OFMA, the Ohio Fair Managers Association, voted to allow and do back in 2015 or 2016, and that’s what all the fairs, the 88 counties and seven independent fairs, are going to do.”
The Fair-minded Coalition said it will continue to attend fair board meetings, which are 7:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of every month at the Fairgrounds, off Route 18 in Wellington. Meister said the coalition also plans to continue putting pressure on fair sponsors and might even hold a “mini fair” more inclusive to all.
“Having difficult conversations with each other is a way to grow,” she said.
The matter is not just a political issue, but also a mental and emotional one, Imam Paul Hasan of Lorain said. He asked the coalition members to realize that racists can be just as psychologically damaged as the victims of their racism.
“When you enslave a people, you become psychologically damaged as well,” he said. “White supremacy is a mindset, an institution.”
“We just need to not despite and detest each other,” Hasan added.
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