WELLINGTON, Ohio-- It's one of the biggest fairs in Ohio and among the hot food, even hotter weather and number of rides is controversy surrounding one vendor who sells confederate flags and other items bearing its image.
Russell Bissett, of West Virgina, said he has sold at the fair for years. He said he does not understand why the presence of the confederate flag is upsetting.
"I don’t understand why people don’t realize the confederate flag is a battle flag. That’s all it is," Bissett said.
One group is taking exception is the Elyria YWCA, where Jeanine Donaldson is the executive director. Donaldson said the flag was used to terrorize African-American families in the south and should not be sold at the fair.
"Today, the flag is the number one recruiting tool used by white supremacist and racist groups," Donaldson said.
The group has billboards and signs in opposition to the fair across the area, something they have done in the past. Donaldson said they are planning counter programming featuring local musicians Aug. 20 at the Black River Organics Farm. The event will take place the same time as the Foreigner concert at the fairgrounds.
"This year, the fair boards position has been, 'Well, we’ve been selling it for years.' Well, there’s a lot of things that have gone on for years, but it doesn’t make it right," Donaldson said.
Lorain County Fair board president Ron Pickworth said the board voted to allow the sale of confederate flags to continue in the past. He said it's an issue of free speech, however, the fair board can request controversial items not be sold at the fair.
"I don’t know, that’s questionable, you know. That’s in the eye of the beholder and people’s personal feelings," Pickworth said.
Bissett said he is a vendor at county fairs across the America and does not always bring the confederate flag with him for sale. He says his booth at the Lorain County Fair is large, allowing him more room to display several versions of the flag. He said the flag is his top seller.
"You know how many people everyday come in here and thank me for still selling it? I guarantee it will be 50 people everyday," Bissett said.