One of Vermont's most popular summer events has barred the sale of merchandise bearing the Confederate flag.
The Addison County Fair & Field Days in New Haven recently made the change in response to requests from the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society in Middlebury.
"Vermont is about being kind to each other," said Piper Harrell, who led the church's effort to request that Confederate flag imagery no longer be sold at the fair. "It's about being neighborly."
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Harrell and other church congregants held meetings with the event's board of directors, in which they made their case that to many, many people, the flag that famously came down last year at South Carolina's statehouse is a symbol of hatred.
"I think if this were a community with more African Americans, I think someone would think about what this looked like sooner," said the UU Society's Rev. Barnaby Feder.
Feder noted that he did not believe any past sales of the Confederate flag image at the fair were intended to cause emotional harm to people of color in Addison County, but that spreading the image often used by hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan could unintentionally stir pain.
Feder and Harrell said they appreciated the board of directors' responsiveness to their concerns.
The two church members told necn they planned to visit the booth of a vendor they knew once sold Confederate flag merchandise to thank that business for agreeing to not sell those items at the fair this year.
"And I hope that he sells a lot more American flag merchandise this year, now that the Confederate flag material is gone," Rev. Feder said.
Jim Foster, one of the directors of the The Addison County Fair & Field Days, said the event gladly agreed to nix confederate merchandise sales, since the image really had nothing to do with the fair's mission of family fun and agricultural education anyway.
"Everyone is welcome," Foster said. "It's a community fair. This is a big social event. So why would you want someone feeling like they're not welcome?"
Jewelry vendor Barb LaPlant said the move will likely cost her around $100 or more in lost sales of belt buckles displaying the Confederate flag and the word "rebel."
"It may not be the best history, but it's still part of our history," LaPlant said of the Confederate flag, adding that despite the hit to her cash flow, she understands the spirit behind the policy change.
LaPlant said customers interested in the belt buckles in the past seemed to have been fans of the TV show "Dukes of Hazzard," which prominently featured a car called the General Lee, which was painted with the Confederate flag.
While LaPlant is keeping her buckles in storage, out of sight, for the Addison County Fair & Field Days, she expects to sell them at upcoming fairs, including one in Lancaster, New Hampshire.
I can put them out at the next fair that I go to," LaPlant said. "We haven't heard anything about any restrictions there."
Jay Diaz of the ACLU of Vermont said since the fair is a private entity, it appears it is well within its constitutional rights to make this change. Diaz said he has not heard of any complaints from people who think the policy change impacts their free speech rights.
The fair is not barring people from displaying Confederate flag tattoos or wearing T-shirts with the flag on it, Foster noted.
The Addison County Fair & Field Days runs through August 13.
Foster said the event usually draws 35,000-40,000 visitors each summer. For more information, visit the Addison County Fair & Field Days website.