A Place for All?
For years, the Wayne County Fair has felt like a welcoming and familiar space for many. But is it truly a safe place for everyone? With the fair's display of the Confederate flag, many people would say not. In recent years, the fair has come under scrutiny for having individual vendors display and sell the flag, as these critics point out the racist history that comes with it and the current racist overtones that are often seen with its supporters, especially in the wake of the June 2015 shooting at a predominantly-black church in Charleston, South Carolina.1
Many defenders of the flag's display claim that it is a part of history, and monuments for people like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom owned slaves (the latter figure even fathering several children with one of them), exist without controversy. Even Abraham Lincoln, revered by many as a civil rights icon, held racist views. So why should the Confederacy be what bears the brunt of the backlash? The counterargument to this, of course, is that these monuments are in recognition of their influence on American history and society. Meanwhile, Jefferson Davis’ legacy is leading secessions and the Confederacy, and any monument for him, no matter the intent, conveys that his actions were acceptable.2 Some flag apologists also believe that it represents freedom more than anything else and that the American Civil War was really about states’ rights. Of course, this argument is dismissed with the flags’ opponents pointing out that slavery was the number one issue that seceding states were concerned about. Therefore, the Confederacy was still about the protection of slavery.3 Finally, some may argue that it is heritage, but at the Wayne County Fair, one should not forget the fact that when Wooster lost some of its own men in the American Civil War, they were fighting to keep the Union intact.4
The criticism of the flag has not just been vocal. For the 2016 Wayne County Fair, members of the Wooster/Orville NAACP, Westminster Presbyterian Church, and Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Wayne County, along with students from the College of Wooster, joined forces to create a booth that would talk to fairgoers about white privilege and the racism that is associated with the Confederate flag.5 As an event that has a largely white attendance (as Wayne County itself is very heavily white,) the booth did make some people uncomfortable, though it also sparked a conversation as to what the Wayne County Fair, and society at large, should do to make sure members feel safe and welcome.6 While the community might not be in agreement about how to handle the flag, its controversy shows how the Wayne County Fair has developed over the years. One being a place to celebrate local farmers and agriculture, and later adding leisure components, contemporary times prove how it is now a space that also provides the community with education about current topics in America, like race and privilege.
1 Andries Coetzee, "Mr. Don Reichert, President of the Wayne County Fair Board: Tell The Wayne County, Ohio Fair Board to cease approving the Confederate Flag," Change.org, June 2016, , accessed June 08, 2017, https://www.change.org/p/mr-don-reichert-president-of-the-wayne-county-fair-board-tell-the-wayne-county-ohio-fair-board-to-cease-approving-the-confederate-flag?recruiter=10581025&utm_source=share_for_starters&utm_medium=copyLink.
2 Robert Siegel and James Loewen, writers, "Rejection Of Flag Exposes Larger Truths About The Confederacy," in All Things Considered, transcript, National Public Radio, July 2, 2015, July 2, 2015, accessed June 12, 2017, http://www.npr.org/2015/07/02/419554834/rejection-of-flag-exposes-larger-truths-about-the-confederacy.1.
3 Carlos Lozada, "How people convince themselves that the Confederate flag represents freedom, not slavery," The Washington Post, June 19, 2015, , accessed June 14, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/book-party/wp/2015/06/19/how-people-convince-themselves-that-the-confederate-flag-represents-freedom-not-slavery/?utm_term=.fe743b4cff72.
4 “County Fair Successful From Start, 100 Years Ago,” The Wooster Daily Record, September 6, 1949, 2.
5 Andries Coetzee, "Progress in Struggle for Racial Justice at the Wayne County Fair," Westminster Presbyterian Wooster, August 26, 2016, , accessed June 08, 2017, http://www.westminsterpresbyterianwooster.org/blog/2016/08/26/progress-in-struggle-for-racial-justice-at-the-wayne-county-fair.
6 Linda Hall, "New Fair Booth Tackles Confederate Flag Sales, Social Justice." Daily Record, Sep 14, 2016, 1, https://search.proquest.com/docview/1901427551?accountid=15131.