When the Rev. Paul Wilson sees the Confederate flag, he remembers the eight-year-0ld black boy whose German shepherd’s throat was slit by the Ku Klux Klan when they burned a cross on his family’s lawn in Southeast Louisiana in 1979.
“I see the reflection of the scene in his eyes as he stood behind his living room window, his mother trembling next to him, his father helpless, knowing if he went outside to defend his home it would mean his death,” Wilson told about 75 people at a Sunday rally at Ely Square in Elyria against Confederate flag sales at the Lorain County Fair. “That night haunted me so.”
Growing up in Baton Rouge, the 56-year-old Wilson said the flag was a symbol of the Ku Klux Klan and racist incidents like the cross burning.
Wilson said he brought a puppy to the family’s home before they moved out. Wilson, now pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Wellington, said he gave the puppy to the boy and told him that all white people aren’t filled with hate.
“Fortunately, I was able to respond to an act of hate with an act of love,” he said. “The hardest thing we have to do in our life is to respond to hate with love. But that’s what God expects.”
Sales of the flag, an emblem of the Confederacy and a symbol of white supremacy, have been criticized since last year’s fatal shootings of nine black people at a church in Charleston, S.C. Suspected shooter Dylan Roof is a self-proclaimed white supremacist who brandished the flag in photos before the killings.
While the shooting led to the flag being removed from the South Carolina state capitol and sales of it stopped at the Ohio State Fair, sales continued last summer at the county fair.
Fair board members have said the flag is seen as Civil War memorabilia to some and part of southern heritage to others. They said banning sales would set a bad precedent and opposition is based on “political correctness” rather than a protest over a historic symbol of racism.
In response, the Lorain County Democratic Party and the Lorain County Board of Mental Health don’t have booths at the fair this week and the Community Foundation of Lorain County has stopped supplying grant money for fair-related activities.
Continued sales also led to the formation of the Fair-minded Coalition of Lorain County, which organized the rally.
Speaker Thelma Adams, who grew up in segregated in Jackson, Miss., recalled cross burnings, lynchings, and Emmett Till, the 14-year-old black boy kidnapped and murdered in 1955 in Mississippi. An all-white jury acquitted the accused killers. Images of Till’s mutilated body at his open-casket funeral shocked the nation and helped spur the civil rights movement.
“I thought we had come a long way, but we still have a long ways to go,” said Adams, who moved to Elyria when she was 15 and is first vice president of the Elyria NAACP. “We still have people that have this hate built into them and I think it’s because they’re still mad because they lost the Civil War.”
Speaker and state Rep. Dan Ramos (D-Lorain) also mentioned the Civil War. Ramos, whose district includes Amherst and Oberlin, said flag sales disrespect the thousands of Union soldiers from Ohio killed in the war.
“To me, supporting our troops is more than just a slogan,” he said.
Sam Felton Jr., Lorain County’s most decorated Vietnam Veteran, agreed. Felton, a Navy Cross and Purple Heart winner, said an emblem of slavery is not what he fought for.
“As an American myself and a man of color, it offends me,” he said.
With political opposition mainly from Democrats — Republican Amherst councilman Phil Van Treuren is an exception — coalition leader Jeanine Donaldson said her group is trying to recruit more Republicans. She said the issue should be bipartisan and noted the fair board’s bylaws restrict sales of items of a “questionable nature.”
Donaldson said because the board is not a government entity, it has no constitutional obligation to allow flag sales. But she said as long as board members feel they have support, sales will continue.
“We need to show them that the majority of Lorain County wants the flag drawn,” she said.
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter
Evan Goodenow | Civitas Media About 75 people participated in a demonstration Sunday at Ely Square in Elyria. They called on the Lorain County Fair to ban sales of the Confederate flag.