A large group of protesters attended the Athens County Fair Board meeting on 16 to urge Fair Board members to ban the sale and display of Confederate flag merchandise at the county’s fair.
Kerri Shaw helped organize the social media event for the protest. She told The Athens NEWS that she has a long history with the fair in the county; she herself participated and her children also.
“The fair is a family event and has always been a family event to me,” she said. “It should be for all families in Athens County.”
Nearly 20 protesters signed up to speak at the meeting. Fair Board president Calvin Jarvis noted at the start of the meeting that speakers would be limited to two minutes of speaking time.
Protester and business owner Chris Pyle was the first to speak. Pyle noted that he believes in “liberty and justice for all,” and that many families in the area do not feel comfortable attending the fair because of the sale and display of the Confederate flag and related merchandise: his family included.
“I’m disgusted to not be able to come here (to the fair),” he told The Board.
His daughter, Ell, was the next speaker on the list. She and other protesters were not permitted to speak, as Jarvis asked each if they were speaking on “the same topic” and would skip to the next individual on the list if they came to speak about the ban of Confederate flags at the fair.
Ultimately, the Board moved to table the issue of Confederate flags and related merchandise until its July 7 meeting.
The Athens NEWS interviewed Ell to see what she was hoping to tell the Fair Board.
“I would have asked them how they would feel if they came in as a black citizen and saw the flag,” she said. “Especially with what it formerly means and what it means now.”
Some other speakers brought up the point while talking about other fair-related topics, such as raising questions about the fair’s response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Local resident Cassie Meek, whose child is in the local 4-H program, noted at the meeting that she would hate to have to pull her child out of the program, but may if the Confederate flag merchandise debate isn’t settled.
President Jarvis noted at the meeting that the ballot measure may have been voted down in the past, but all Agricultural Society members have the power to vote on issues such as the sale and display of Confederate flags.
“If you want to see change, be part of the membership,” he said. “Respect the democracy that took place.”
According to the Athens County Agricultural Society Constitution, any resident of Athens County age 18 years or over may become a member of the Society by paying annually the membership fee fixed by the Board of Directors.
Members of the Agricultural Society of the Athens County Fair voted overwhelmingly last year against the ban of the sale of Confederate flag merchandise at the annual fair, Jarvis noted at the June 16 meeting.
A total of 124 members of the Agricultural Society voted against the fair implementing a vendors policy change that would have prohibited the sale and display of Confederate flag merchandise and the flag itself. Only 33 members voting in favor of that policy, The Athens NEWS previously reported.
All 250-plus members of the Agricultural Society – a group that consists of people who have purchased a $35 membership pass for the fair – were eligible to vote on this issue during the Athens County Fair’ Board’s annual elections.
The rejected policy would have mandated that “any contractor found selling any items featuring the image of the Confederate flag will be asked to promptly remove them.”
Previously, Athens Mayor Steve Patterson and the Athens County Commissioners raised concerns about the sale of Confederate flag belt buckles and other memorabilia at the Athens County Fair in early August. The Commissioners requested last year in a letter that the Fair Board “immediately” cease sale of the merchandise. The Commissioners have no direct authority over the Fair Board or over the county fair.
Pyle told the NEWS that he and others who attended that meeting planned to go through the membership process and bring up the ban proposal again.