Note: This story appears in the Thursday, Aug. 8 newspaper on Page A1.
The Athens County Fair Board was contacted Wednesday by the county commissioners and asked to stop vendors from selling merchandise displaying the confederate flag.
In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, the fair board said it’s too late to take action for this year’s fair but the board may address it later.
“As we are in the middle of our fair week and our focus is on providing our patrons with a safe and positive experience at our fair, this is a topic that we may decide to address at a later date,” the board said.
The 168th Athens County Fair is ongoing and concludes this Saturday.
“At this point in time, there are no Federal or State laws prohibiting the sale of civil war memorabilia,” the statement continued. “We do respect your opinion and we thank you for expressing it.”
An Athens Messenger reporter found at least three vendors selling confederate flag merchandise Wednesday, including a vendor selling a shirt showing the flag and the words “Heritage Not Hate.”
The Ohio State Fair banned confederate flag merchandise in 2015.
Athens Mayor Steve Patterson attended Wednesday’s county commissioners meeting to discuss that matter, saying he has received complaints from city residents who attended the fair this week.
“Those that I’ve heard from certainly share a concern on insensitivity in a community where we try our best to be as inclusive and diverse as possible,” Patterson said.
Patterson also indicated the dichotomy of seeing the confederate symbol at both the fair and as a symbol used at events like the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“I really don’t recall a time when I’ve seen a 4-H flag brought to one of those rallies and flying,” Patterson said. “I look at the children who are doing wonderful things at the county fair. They work hard with their head, hands, heart and health (the meaning of 4-H).”
Both the mayor and the commissioners had been sent copies of an email that a McAfee Road woman had sent to the fair board asking it to ban sale of confederate flag merchandise.
“Such merchandise does not signal a family friendly, welcoming environment,” she wrote. “That symbol represents hate, bigotry and intolerance.”
The fair board also sent her the statement it issued Wednesday.
An Athens woman posted on Facebook that she contacted the fair board office and expressed her view that the merchandise is racist.
County Commission President Lenny Eliason said the fair board is an independent body and it makes decisions and sets rules for the fair.
“We understand the issue and we’re sensitive to it,” Eliason told Patterson. Eliason also said the commissioners had already been looking into the matter.