Confederate flag, hate speech discussed at church forum


Former longtime Oberlin police chief Robert Jones recalled a somber childhood memory Aug. 23 during a discussion on hate speech and the sale of the Confederate flag at the Lorain County Fair.

The event was held at Wellington’s First United Methodist Church and hosted by the Fair-minded Coalition of Lorain County, a group that’s led the charge to ban the sale of the flag at county-sanctioned events.

Jones, who served as police chief from 1980-2000, was born in Kentucky and walked two miles to school every day because segregation didn’t allow black children to ride the bus. While some adults offered rides out of kindness others did so with hateful intentions in mind, he said.

“Cars and trucks with Confederate flags on them would pull up and make us get in,” he said. “There was a time where they had defecated in the back area where we had to sit. They dropped us off at school and we had to walk around with that stink on us the entire day.”

“I have a history with this flag. It’s not just a symbol of hate. It injects hate into your veins,” he said.

NOT JUST ABOUT THE CIVIL WAR

Jeanine Donaldson, head of the Coalition, said her group and others are not finished attempting to persuade the fair’s board of directors to reconsider its stance on the flag’s sale.

“We’ve known for a long time that this ‘good old boy flag’ does not hold the same meaning that many southerners think it does,” she said. “We know that flag is a chief recruitment tool for folks who want to get involved in hate, white supremacist movements, skinheads, neo-Nazis. There’s a real history and a legacy here.”

The States’ Rights Democratic Party, or Dixiecrats, were responsible for reintroducing what’s popularly referred to as the Confederate flag into the political fray in 1948. Throughout the following decades, it has been used as a symbol by those who opposed segregation, the slides showed.

The original, square-shaped version of the flag was rejected as the Confederacy’s national flag in 1861 and instead adopted as the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. The more recognizable rectangular version was first used later in the Civil War by the Army of Tennessee.

Mississippi added the Confederate symbol to its state flag in 1894, where it remains to this day despite a referendum attempt in 2001. It was also part of two former Georgia state flags between 1956 and 2003.

According to the NAACP, 4,743 lynchings occurred in the United States between 1882 and 1968. Of those victims, 3,446 were black.

“During and after reconstruction it’s been used as a way to let African-Americans know where our place is,” Donaldson said. “Many African-Americans have southern heritage too, but you don’t see them claiming that flag. If you’re from Georgia, fly the Georgia flag. If you’re heritage is Tennessee, claim the Tennessee flag. When someone claims the rebel flag, they know what they’re doing.”

Tony Giardini, chairman of the Lorain County Democratic Party, said what occurred Aug. 12 at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., reaffirmed his commitment to fight the sale of the flag.

That event culminated in Heather Heyer, a paralegal from Charlottesville who was protesting the rally, being run over and killed by a car allegedly driven by 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. of Maumee.

“Someone told me after the first issue we brought this issue up with the fair, they sold more flags than ever,” said Giardini. “That gave me second thoughts. Then I saw that flag flown next to Nazi flags. We predicted two years ago what this was all about. I can tell you this — if a few hundred black or brown people had shown up at a protest with guns strapped to their hips and assault rifles slung around their shoulders, I can guarantee you they wouldn’t have gotten two steps down a street in Ohio, Virginia, or anywhere else.”

“These guys showed up with loaded weapons and carrying the Nazi flag in America in 2017,” he said. “Unbelievable. That’s why we can’t allow the Confederate flag to be sold by some vendor from West Virginia who wants to make a political statement. It’s the wrong political statement for the United States of America. They fought that war. They lost that war. That flag gets buried in a museum, right where it belongs.”

Sale of the Confederate flag has been banned by state fairs in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois, and New York.

THE FIELD IS NOT INSIDE YOUR CHURCH

The Rev. Stanley Miller of Oberlin’s Rust United Methodist Church said the faith community needs to have a bigger presence in this debate. Miller also served as executive director of the Cleveland NAACP from 2005-2011.

“Dr. Martin Luther King always used to say, ‘Get to know someone you don’t know,’” he said. “Sit down. Invite them to your house. Have a meal with them. It’s easy to hate someone you don’t know. It’s much harder to hate someone you do know.”

“Being a church member is like putting on a uniform,” he said. “You learn the playbook, or the Bible, and then it’s time to get out on the field. The field is not inside your church. It’s out there on the street where the people are, the people who need us more than anyone else. We’re not stepping up in the faith community. The march in Tappan Square was nice, but it’s just a start. When are we going to get out there and do something that makes a difference?”

Pastor Paul Wilson of First United Methodist Church grew up in Louisiana and said he saw his first cross burning as a teenager.

He lived near an African-American family whose dog was violently killed by Klu Klux Klan members before the group burned a cross in their yard. Wilson purchased a new puppy for the family before moving away.

Wilson said he personally saw the flag used as a symbol by the KKK many times as a resident of Baton Rouge.

“I see a 20-year-old kid from Ohio running over someone on the streets of Charlottesville, and I think, what are we teaching our children?” he said. “People are taught to hate. That’s why Dr. King wanted to see people who think like that as a victim of hate and fear. They were taught that. Dylan Roof was a teenager when he walked in and shot people while they were worshiping. People like that attack churches because they want to say, ‘We can get you anywhere.’”

Opposing the sale of the flag is not meant to hurt the fair as an event or its many participants, many of whom are children in 4-H clubs that his church continues to support, he said.

Imam Paul Hasan, founder of Interfaith Ministries in Lorain, said advocacy for the Confederate flag is only a symptom of deeper problems in the country.

“I would recommend the books ‘100 Years of Lynchings’ and ‘Without Sanctuary,’” he said. “They not only give you the history of what’s been done to our people but European people as well. The psychology of African people and the psychology of European people has been damaged by 400 years of slavery.”

“It’s a bitter pill for us to swallow and talk about, but we’ve got to if we really want real justice in removing the flag internally from the hearts of the people,” he said.

MOVING FORWARD

Some at the meeting questioned the process of electing fair board members and said the diversity of Lorain County should be better reflected in an event that represents the entire area.

“The Lorain County Agricultural Society does business as the Lorain County Fair,” said Donaldson. “You basically have to move to Wellington, Huntington, New Russia, or one of those places to get on the fair board. We tried to ask them about possibly including some R&B musical acts and even that got shot down.”

Fair board president Brian Twining said any Lorain County resident who’s 21 and older is eligible to become a member if they can collect at least 10 signatures from agricultural society members. He declined to comment on other issues discussed at the meeting.

“There’s zero representation on the fair board from incorporated areas,” said David Ashenhurst, a former Oberlin city councilman. “Only the agricultural lands have a voice. Dick Williams was around here years ago but he’s not here now. I don’t know if there are any African-American members of the Lorain County Farm Bureau anymore.”

Donaldson and others in attendance said they will also continue to relay their message to sponsors of the fair such as Lorain County Community College.

Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.

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Pastor Paul Wilson speaks Aug. 23 during a hate speech symposium at Wellington’s First United Methodist Church. The event discussed the ongoing sale of the Confederate Flag at the Lorain County Fair.
http://www.thewellingtonenterprise.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/25/2017/08/web1_IMG_0078.jpgPastor Paul Wilson speaks Aug. 23 during a hate speech symposium at Wellington’s First United Methodist Church. The event discussed the ongoing sale of the Confederate Flag at the Lorain County Fair.

Photos by Jonathan Delozier | AIM Media Midwest

Former Oberlin police chief Robert Jones shares some childhood experiences with racism and the Confederate flag.
http://www.thewellingtonenterprise.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/25/2017/08/web1_IMG_0122.jpgFormer Oberlin police chief Robert Jones shares some childhood experiences with racism and the Confederate flag.

Photos by Jonathan Delozier | AIM Media Midwest

Jeanine Donaldson, head of the Fair-minded coalition of Lorain County, said her group will continue to press the Lorain County Fair board of directors to ban the sale of the Confederate flag.
http://www.thewellingtonenterprise.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/25/2017/08/web1_IMG_0088.jpgJeanine Donaldson, head of the Fair-minded coalition of Lorain County, said her group will continue to press the Lorain County Fair board of directors to ban the sale of the Confederate flag.

Photos by Jonathan Delozier | AIM Media Midwest

By Jonathan Delozier

jdelozier@aimmediamidwest.com