The Confederate flag will continue to be sold at the Washington County Fair in Greenwich this summer.
The fair’s board of directors, about 40 people, voted unanimously Wednesday night not to ban the sale of the flag at the 2016 fair, to be held Aug. 22-28.
“We had quite a discussion about it, and it was a unanimous vote,” said board President Harry Booth, who declined to comment further.
Read the full statement regarding the Confederate flag from the Washington County Fair board of directors.
The board released a statement regarding its decision, citing “concerns over jeopardizing their 501c3 nonprofit, charitable organization status,” and that it considered the flag controversy to be “a political issue” and, “as such, should be handled by the government officials elected to represent their constituents.”
The release finished with: “Similar to the actions of the National Park Service and the Great New York State Fair, the Washington County Fair officials will ask for the cooperation of their vendors to refrain from prominently displaying items that may be disruptive.”
Greenwich resident Ann Townsend was the first person to raise the flag as an issue last summer. Reached at her home in Greenwich Wednesday night, she was not surprised by the decision.
“They were pretty serious when we were there, and I could tell by their expressions they weren’t moved by our comments,” said Townsend, who spoke before the group Wednesday night and then left before the vote. “We’re going to try to turn this into a teachable moment. I’m going to apply for a booth at the fair; we have until April 1, but I’m not sure they’ll approve. We’re going to talk among friends and maybe come up with a booth about the Underground Railroad, the Greenwich soldiers that went to fight in the Civil War, and then segue way into the issues involving the Confederate flag.”
Fair officials first addressed the issue during the 2015 Washington County Fair, held Aug. 24-30. When Townsend noticed that Confederate flags were being sold by a vendor, she complained to fair officials who told her there was nothing they could do. Townsend came back the next day with a sign that said, “Slavery: Let’s vilify it, not glorify it.” At that point officials asked her to stop her one-woman protest and Townsend partially complied, moving her protest and her sign outside the fairgrounds to Route 29.
Townsend was one of four people Wednesday night to speak out against the selling of the flag. Joining her in voicing their opposition were Greenwich residents Kim Little and Emily Aierstok, both teachers, and Leigh Foster of Cossayuna Lake.
The news came as a huge disappointment to Clifford Oliver Mealy of Greenwich, a photographer and U.S. Army veteran. Mealy, who made a passionate plea to fair board members at its November board meeting, wasn’t at Wednesday night’s gathering.
“I’m sick about it, I’m hurt, what can I say,” said Mealy. “I’ve been in this community for 25 years and I’ve never had any kind of incident to make me think that these people would react this way. There’s a lot going through my head right now. I may make my own T-shirt and say, ‘This is my flag,’ with the stars and stripes. I am very upset.”
The debate over the flag heightened in June following the mass shooting in a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in which nine people were killed. A few weeks later the Confederate flag was removed from the state Capitol in Columbia, and a handful of major retail companies, including Wal-Mart, Sears, Target, eBay and Amazon decided to stop selling the items.
On June 27, the New York State Fair in Syracuse also announced that the Confederate flag would not be sold there. A fair spokesman said that while it had no authority to stop anyone from selling the flag, a simple request to vendors was met with compliance.
A spokesperson for the Cobleskill Sunshine Fair said earlier this week there was no Confederate memorabilia sold at last year’s fair, and a phone call to the Saratoga County Fair elicited a “no comment.” Messages left at the Altamont Fair and Fonda Fair offices were not returned.
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]
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