WELLINGTON — The Lorain County Fair Board took no action Tuesday night to halt the sale of the Confederate flag at the fairgrounds, but the leader of a group of citizens pushing for a ban said after the meeting that doesn’t mean they’ll stop trying.
Jeanine Donaldson, who is heading up the Fair Minded Coalition of Lorain County, said she hadn’t expected the board, which has already twice decided against banning the sale of the controversial flag, to change its position after a single meeting.
“It’s going to be about changing hearts and minds, and from the looks of the board, that’s going to take some time,” she said.
Board member Kim Meyers said he didn’t think the board, which is a private rather than a public entity, was going to change its position.
“We’ve looked at the issue, and nothing new was brought to us tonight,” he said.
Donaldson was one of several people to urge the board to ban the flag, something that the Ohio State Fair did last year after nine people were killed in a racially motivated shooting in a South Carolina church.
“This is 2016. This is Lorain County. This is Ohio, and as long as you have Lorain County in your name, you are the fair managers for all of Lorain County,” she said.
The board came under fire during the fair in August when county Commissioner Matt Lundy and Lorain County Democratic Party Chairman Tony Giardini called on the board to stop vendors from selling the Confederate flag, which they called a symbol of hate.
Others defended the sale of the Confederate flag as a free speech issue.
Audience member Al Leiby compared the issue to calls to outlaw burning the American flag. He said that offends him, but he doesn’t want to infringe on someone else’s free speech rights.
Leiby quoted a remark he’d found on Facebook, “My rights don’t end when your offense begins.”
Giardini said he didn’t think the board would be so willing to bring up free speech if someone was trying to sell an ISIS or Nazi flag.
He also said it’s hard for those who aren’t black or weren’t raised in the South to understand just how offensive the flag is because it became a symbol of opposition to the civil rights movement and desegregation efforts in the 1960s.
Frank Whitfield, president of the Lorain County Urban League, said he didn’t think the free speech argument was real.
“To me, that’s cowardice to hide behind the First Amendment,” Whitfield said, drawing angry looks from Leiby and Ken Sedlak of LaGrange, who also had argued that banning the flag would violate free speech rights. Whitfield said he wanted to open a dialogue about the issue of the Confederate flag and wanted to know if blacks were welcome at the county fair given the Confederate flag would be present.
Meyers and board President Brian Twining said after the meeting that they hadn’t appreciated Whitfield’s comment.
Meyers said over the years people have complained about a host of other items they find offensive, including requests to ban the sale of Christian symbols because some people were offended by them. He said those requests were also turned down.
He compared the controversy to efforts to change the name of the Washington Redskins or to get rid of the Cleveland Indians Chief Wahoo logo because some Native Americans find those offensive. Neither of those has changed despite pressure by some in the public, he said.
Meyers said the board won’t be banning anything in the name of political correctness.
“We’re not taking anybody’s rights,” he said. “If you’re offended, don’t buy it or walk on by.”
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