A new billboard campaign rails against continued Confederate flag sales at the Lorain County Fair, and the group behind it has other plans in store, too.
The Fair Minded Coalition of Lorain County holds that the flag is a racist symbol and a recruiting tool for white supremacist groups.
Billboards denouncing flag sales can be seen on routes 58, 57, and 18. The signs read, “Indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Keep Your Pledge! Say no to the Confederate flag at the Lorain County Fair.”
In an Aug. 15 press conference in Elyria, the coalition handed out yard signs bearing an identical message.
The group has also planned a “peace concert” for 6 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 23 at Wellington’s First United Methodist Church, 127 Park Pl.
The event will include family-friendly games and live music, aiming to provide an alternative to attending the county fair just blocks away, said coalition coordinator Jeanine Donaldson.
“We’re not going to protest because we’re not like that,” Donaldson said. “We’re going to First United Methodist Church with one of our good coalition members, Rev. Paul Wilson. He grew up in Louisiana and many of you have heard his story about seeing crosses burn. He’s seen what that flag does to African-Americans in the South.”
In a 2017 fair week letter to the editor, Wilson recounted growing up about five miles from the home of Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke: “In high school we all heard whispers about him… We knew he organized the rallies, the marches, the cross burnings, the terror designed to keep black families away from white neighborhoods, away from the polls, away from the American dream. Parents told us not to get on his bad side. That it would be dangerous.
“I witnessed two of his cross burnings, terrorizing black families who moved into the wrong neighborhood, the rebel flag flying behind their white hoods. When I moved to Ohio, I thought I saw my last rebel flag. When it reared its ugly head, I tried to tell my parishioners about it.”
Fair board members have maintained a stance of not endorsing the Confederate flag but allowing sales, which they say are protected by the First Amendment.
Tony Giardini, chairman of the Lorain County Democratic Party, called the stance “a cop-out.”
“Despite the fact that vendors have the First Amendment right to sell the Confederate flag, that doesn’t mean it’s right to sell the Confederate flag. There are a lot of things I’m allowed to do but they’re not the right thing to do,” he said. “The First Amendment also allows pornographic material to be sold but I guarantee you the fair board wouldn’t allow it to be sold. It bothers me from a moral point of view.”
Frank Whitfield, president of the Lorain County Urban League, said he believes some people cling to symbols from the past as a source of comfort in uncomfortable times.
“I got a call recently from a farmer in South Amherst because he was about to lose his property. He said, ‘I hear you help people out. Can you help me out?’ It reinforced this image to me that the powers that be could care less about that common man,” Whitfield said. “The president of this country could care less about that common man but he knows he can play off race to turn us against each other and keep us from solving real issues.”
The Fair Minded Coalition was formed in 2016 and has since convinced several area organizations to stop setting up booths at the fair, including the Lorain County Board of Mental Health, the Lorain County Commissioner’s Office, and the Lorain County Democratic Party.
Donaldson said no one from the coalition plans to attend the Lorain County Fair and protests are not being encouraged.
“We last talked to the fair board about three months ago,” she said. “We go to the meetings. We’re not into protesting. There were some folks there last year that did it on their own. That was not under our umbrella. The younger folks want to protest and they did.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.