By Brad Dicken and Jon Wysochanski
WELLINGTON — County Commissioner Matt Lundy criticized the Lorain County Fair Board on Wednesday for allowing the sale and display of the Confederate flag at the fairgrounds this year.
“I believe the families of Lorain County value and embrace diversity,” Lundy said during Wednesday’s commissioners’ meeting. “The Confederate flag is embraced by those who wish to divide us and by those groups promoting hatred in our country.”
Fair Board President Kim Meyers said Lundy complained to him Tuesday afternoon that vendors were selling the Confederate flag and he told him the board would look into the issue for next year.
He said he didn’t know Lundy, who is the only person to complain about the flag, planned to attack the Fair Board during a public meeting without inviting him to explain the board’s position.
“I don’t know whether his complaint was genuine or whether his complaint was politically motivated,” Meyers said.
The Confederate flag became a flashpoint in the ongoing conversation about race relations in the United States after Dylann Roof allegedly shot and killed nine people at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., in June during a racially motivated attack.
The killings prompted a push to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse and elsewhere it was on public display. The Ohio State Fair has banned selling the flag, a move Lundy praised Wednesday.
Meyers said the Fair Board had looked at the issue in the weeks leading up to the fair and found that the decision whether to allow Confederate flag merchandise was up to the individual fairs. He said there were also legal concerns about whether banning the sale of the flag would constitute a free speech issue.
“Personally, I find it repulsive to deface or burn the American flag, but it’s protected speech,” Meyers said.
He said because the fair was so close, the board decided to put off further discussion of a ban on the Confederate flag until its September meeting.
Under the regulations for vendors, the Fair Board can bar “concessions of questionable nature.”
Russell Bissett, a vendor from West Virginia who is selling the Confederate flag at the county fair this year, said the controversy surrounding the flag has been blown out of proportion by what he called politically correct and revisionist politicians and historians aiming to take more and more rights away from Americans.
“Pretty soon we’ll be a communist country at the rate we’re going,” the Air Force veteran said. “When I was in the service, I was proud to defend our country and freedom. Now, I don’t think I could do it because I’d be ashamed of what we’re becoming.”
Surrounded by Confederate flag sheets, swimming suits, belt buckles, T-shirts, bumper stickers and hats, Bissett said he’s been selling Confederate merchandise for more than three decades with no problems. He said he’s been selling the merchandise at the Lorain County Fair for the past four years without any complaints.
Although he admitted slavery was a big factor in what ultimately led to the Civil War, Bissett said the war was more about states getting trampled on by an out-of-control federal government and the flag has come to symbolize those who believe the federal government continues to abuse its powers.
“It has nothing to do with slavery,” he said. “The government is just trying to take away our rights. If they get away with this, they’ll take away the American flag next and there are a lot of veterans in this country that won’t put up with it, including me.”
Lundy said the flag is offensive and was being displayed to make a political statement.
“And for those who say it’s about heritage, Ohio is not a Southern state,” he said. “Your argument is shallow and hollow. The Confederate flag has no place in Ohio or in our country.”
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BradDickenCT. Contact Jon Wysochanski at 329-7123 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonWysochanski.