County fairs around Northeast Ohio are debating whether to ban sale or display of the Confederate flag. The grass-roots movement comes after state legislators killed a proposal that would have banned the flag across all fairs last month.
Portage County is the latest to face calls to remove the Confederate flag from its county fair. A petition from Portage County Young Democrats urges the fair board to take the “necessary steps” of banning the sale and display of the flag at the Portage County Randolph Fair.
The flag is a symbol of racism and oppression and makes people of color feel unwelcome, says Portage County Young Democrats President Christopher Clevenger-Morris.
“It’s the flag of a rebellion that Ohio, the state, sent its soldiers to dismantle and destroy,” Clevenger-Morris said. “Ohioans died fighting for the rights of Black Americans, and this flag disgraces their sacrifice.”
Portage County has restricted the late August event to just the Junior Fair this year, due to the coronavirus. Allowing the flag onsite sends a message to young fair attendees that symbols of racism and oppression are acceptable, Clevenger-Morris said.
“To be impressionable and to be learning new things, to come into this space and potentially see that flag flying, posted on vehicles, for sale by vendors,” he said. “I don’t think that sends the right message.”
The petition currently has several hundred signatures, he said, and the group hopes to gather more before bringing the matter to the fair board.
“There have been some negative comments out there about this being a First Amendment rights issue and a heritage issue,” Clevenger-Morris said. “But for the most part, the individuals we’ve interacted with have been very positive and understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish.”
The Portage County Randolph Fair Board did not respond to ideastream’s request for comment.
Other county fair boards have already made decisions on whether to allow the flag. In Wayne County, the fair board issued a statement this week stating displays or sales of the flag were not permitted.
“After careful consideration of all aspects in regards to this topic that include safety and security as well as the patrons that are affected by our decisions,” the statement reads, “we believe that this is the time to support our community and especially those that protect and serve us.”a
And in Medina County, a petition to ban the flag garnered more than 3,500 signatures. The fair board issued a statement saying it could not ban the flag outright because county agricultural societies are political subdivisions and some of the activities are considered government functions. As a result, the board said, a ban could face a challenge for violating the Constitution.
But the Medina County Fair Board is “sensitive to the social issues” surrounding the Confederate flag, the statement said, and asked vendors not to sell or display the flag. Vendors agreed to the terms, the fair board said.
The Ohio State Fair banned the Confederate flag in 2015.