Oberlin librarians won’t boycott the Lorain County Fair this year over Confederate flag sales.
“Our mission is education and enlightenment,” Oberlin Public Library board president Mary Picken said after a July 13 meeting.
OPL workers help staff a library at the fair in Wellington, which this year will run from Aug. 22-28.
Board member Merdith Gadsby said she hopes workers will provide an “alternative narrative” to the controversial flag by displaying literature about Oberlin’s history of abolitionism and social justice rather than anti-flag material.
“The issues surrounding it are more important because even if that flag isn’t there, the issues persist,” Gadsby said.
Sales of the the flag, a symbol of the treasonous Confederacy and white supremacy, have been criticized since last year’s fatal shootings of nine black people at a Charleston, S.C., church. Suspected shooter Dylan Roof is a self-proclaimed white supremacist who brandished the flag in photos before the killings.
While the shooting led to the flag being removed from the South Carolina state capitol and sales of it stopped at the Ohio State Fair, sales continued last summer at the county fair.
In protest, the Lorain County Democratic Party and the Lorain County Board of Mental Health won’t have booths at the fair and the Community Foundation of Lorain County has stopped supplying grant money for fair-related activities.
Activist David Ashenhurst asked OPL board members at their May meeting to consider joining the boycott. He argued that while people have a First Amendment right to display the flag, the fair has a right to restrict sales.
Fair board members have said the flag is seen as Civil War memorabilia to some and part of southern heritage to others. They said banning sales would set a bad precedent and opposition is based on “political correctness” rather than a protest over a historic symbol of racism.
Ashenhurst cited the fair board’s rule restricting vendors from selling merchandise of a “questionable nature.” The fair board also reserves the right to deny space to a vendor “at its discretion.” Ashenhurst said flag sales contradict the board’s goal of making the fair a “family-friendly” environment.
He expressed disappointment after the OPL meeting in which the issue never came up for a vote.
While fair board members say they have no intention of banning sales, Ashenhurst said the anti-flag movement will eventually be victorious. “The pressure is building on the fair board to join the 21st century,” he said.
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.