The attorney for the Vermont State Fair said Monday the organization hopes to avoid any controversy over the Confederate flag. At least one vendor at the fair — which opens Tuesday — has displayed and sold the flag in recent years, and last week the Rutland branch of the NAACP requested that the fair ask its vendors to stop.
"This divisive symbol is not only disrespectful to the 28,000 Vermonters who served in Vermont units during the Civil War (not including the 7,000+ Vermonters who served in the regular Army, Navy and Marine Corps), it has become synonymous with hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and numerous neo-Nazi/white supremacists organizations," a letter from the NAACP's executive committee stated.
The letter goes on to point out that numerous state-run fairs have forbidden sale or display of the flag, and that the Addison County Field Days prohibited it in 2016. "The Rutland community depends on venues like the Vermont State Fair to fuel our local economy and provide a welcoming space for all attendees and participants, regardless of race, economic status, sexual orientation or age," the letter said. "Merchandise displaying the (Confederate) flag or design is similar to displaying merchandise featuring a swastika — while it is a part of our history, it’s offensive and has no place or purpose at a fair." Luey Clough, president of the Rutland County Agricultural Society, which operates the fair, referred questions to attorney Jack Welch, who said the fair's management was not aware of any vendors intending to sell Confederate flags. He said if any materialized, it would require an action of the board of trustees to deal with it. He said he expected that would happen as quickly as possible. "If someone's trying to sell those flags at the fair, that problem would be addressed, I imagine, without delay," Welch said. "We have an empathetic board of very common-sensible people. This is a family fair, a fair for the benefit of the families of the surrounding communities to come and enjoy. ... The issues that can be sparked by the presence of Confederate flags — we don't want that going on at the fair." Welch said the trustees were not aware of the issue prior to last week, though the letter indicated that the NAACP had raised the issue with the fair last year. Welch stopped short of explicitly saying Confederate flags were unwelcome at the fair, because he said he could not speak for the trustees. "I think it's fair to say slavery and the vestiges of slavery have imparted an indelible and absolute black mark on the history of this country," he said. "I can't think any right-thinking person would dispute that statement." Kate Connizzo, spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union in Vermont, said the fair would not trample on the First Amendment rights of any vendors if it decides not to allow sales of the flag.
"So long as the Vermont State Fair is a private entity they can choose what they allow to be sold at the fair without raising civil liberties concerns," Connizzo wrote in an email. "If the fair’s standard is anything distasteful — or even annoying — the Confederate flag certainly qualifies and people are within their rights to ask that it not be allowed."