The New York State Fair has banned sales of merchandise bearing the Confederate battle flag, but the Delaware County Fair will not follow suit.
The flag, the best-known symbol of the southern rebellion in the U.S. Civil War, became more divisive than at any time since the end of that war after nine African-American people were killed at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. on June 17.
The man charged with the crimes, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, was pictured on a website posing with the flag and other emblems associated with white supremacy. The ensuing controversy led to the removal of the flag from the South Carolina Statehouse on July 10. Many national retailers, including Wal-Mart and Sears, have stopped selling the flag.
Above: The board of directors of the Delaware Valley Agricultural Society at the July 27 meeting. The board is wrapping up plans for the upcoming Delaware County Fair. A ban of Confederate flag merchandise is not part of those plans. Photo by Robert Cairns.
Last month, the New York State Fair announced that the Confederate battle flag would not be welcome at its fairgrounds.
Spokesman Dave Bullard issued a statement:
"The Great New York State Fair is a proud symbol of the heritage, diversity, and great promise of New York State. Our state and our Fair represent inclusion and respect for all. The Fair requests vendors to refrain from selling or displaying items that may offend or in cases of public health and safety. Our vendors have always complied with these requests. The Fair is aware of two vendors who have sold Confederate merchandise in the past. They have agreed not to sell such merchandise at the State Fair."
The Delaware Valley Agricultural Society is the governing body of the Delaware County Fair, which runs from August 17 to August 22 in the town of Walton.
Noting the state fair’s ban, Leslie Kauffman, a 4-H club leader and a co-superintendent of the rabbit barn at the Delaware County Fair, contacted Ed Rossley, the president of the society's board of directors, to request a similar ban.
Rossley brought the issue to a Monday, July 27 meeting of the board of directors, reading an email message from Kauffman.
“She wants to know what you think about Confederate flags at the fair,” he said.
“The more of them, the better,” replied Director Norm Kilpatrick.
“The Civil War got over 153 years ago,” said Director John Jackson.
“It's just part of history,” added Director Niles Wilson.
Rossley said that banning flag merchandise, even if the board was so inclined, would be difficult because vendors have already signed their contracts with the fair.
Director Jon Seeley agreed, saying, “We can't get it stopped, now.”
The final word on the matter came from Kilpatrick.
“It's none of our damn business,” he said.
Above: The demolition derby at the Delaware County Fair in 2012. Photo by Ann Roberti.
Contacted after the meeting, Kauffman said she was “very disappointed” about the board’s decision.
She said that the fair board should have joined the state fair and major retailers “in deciding that this is not an appropriate thing to be making a profit on, to be selling at a family event like the county fair.”
She said the flag “has come to be such a symbol of hate that it should no more be sold at family events than the swastika should.”
Kauffman cited the Charleston shootings in making her point. “The whole country has shifted on this after the massacre at Charleston,” she said. She called the board's resistance “so behind where the moral center of America is, right now.”
Above: A sign above a gate at the Delaware County Fairgrounds welcomes visitors the fair. This year's event is scheduled for Aug. 17 to 22. Photo by Robert Cairns.
Other town and county fairs in the Catskills have varying policies on Confederate flag in the wake of the Charleston massacre.
The Ulster County Fair, which began on Tuesday, July 28 in New Paltz, has banned the sale of Confederate flag merchandise, according to Gary Newkirk, the fair manager, in response to a query from the Watershed Post.
[Update 7/31/15: Since this story ran earlier this week, Newkirk has issued a press release stating that Confederate flags are in fact allowed at the Ulster County Fair. (They are also very much on display, according to the Times Herald-Record.) In the press release, Newkirk asks that vendors display such items "discreetly." When the Watershed Post called Newkirk asking for an explanation about the discrepancy between his two statements, an aide in his office refused to put Newkirk on the phone and then hung up.]
On the eastern end of Delaware County earlier this month, the Margaretville Fireman’s Carnival allowed sales of merchandise featuring the flag and drew complaints from fair attendees, according to the Catskill Mountain News.
Organizers of Sullivan County’s Little World’s Fair and the Schoharie County Sunshine Fair, which are both scheduled for August, could not be reached by press time.
In Greene County, Richard Bear, the former head of the Greene County Youth Fair, said that he did not think there was a formal ban on Confederate flags at this year’s event, which ended last week. But he said that the fair doesn’t usually host T-shirt and memorabilia vendors at all.
“We didn't have T-shirt vendors, or vendors of any sort that I think would portray that,” Bear said. "I don't care one way or the other. It's a part of history."
Julia Reischel contributed reporting to this story.
Update, 7/31/15: On Thursday, July 30, the board of directors of the Delaware County Fair issued a press release in response to this story:
Press Release: Confederate Flags at the Delaware County Fair
The Delaware County Fair Board of Directors are concerned regarding recent articles that have appeared in the press relative to confederate flags being permitted at this year’s Delaware County Fair. While we strongly believe some of our Director’s comments regarding the issue were taken completely out of context, the fair board wants to clarify that vendor contracts for this year’s fair were finalized and signed several months ago. With this being said, we simply cannot ban the flags, however, this does not mean we condone them either. The public should be aware that we are sensitive to their concerns and will be closely reviewing our policies regarding this topic for the 2016 Fair Season.
The Watershed Post absolutely stands by our reporting in this story. No quotes were taken out of context.