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Confederate flags gone from Westmoreland Fair

Matthew Santoni
| Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, 10:21 a.m.
A pocket knife with a confederate flag and the words 'southern Pride' as seen at the Westmoreland County Fair on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
A pocket knife with a confederate flag and the words 'southern Pride' as seen at the Westmoreland County Fair on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017.
Confederate flags are seen at the Westmoreland County hours before it opened to the public on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017. The flags have since been taken down.
Renatta Signorini | Tribune-review
Confederate flags are seen at the Westmoreland County hours before it opened to the public on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017. The flags have since been taken down.
Confederate flags are seen at the Westmoreland County hours before it opened to the public on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017. The flags have since been taken down.
Confederate flags are seen at the Westmoreland County hours before it opened to the public on Friday, Aug. 18, 2017. The flags have since been taken down.

Vendors at the Westmoreland Fair became the latest to take down Confederate flags and merchandise over the weekend. The move came a week after the battle flag's appropriation by white supremacists at a violent rally in Charlottesville, Va., renewed a backlash against symbols of the Confederacy.

The fair's official Facebook page announced the change Monday, noting that "The Westmoreland Fair ground is not a political arena... We have requested that the vendors take down and stop selling the Confederate items; they have all willing(ly) agreed to this request."

The post, which ended by emphasizing the fair's focus on agriculture, appeared to have been removed later as comments for and against the decision racked up.

A vendor's stand flying a Confederate battle flag and another flag combining the Confederate and modern United States flag was one of the first sights people had upon entering the fair, but those flags came down over the weekend, said Mary Veazey Clark, one of the people who reached out to the fair board to complain.

"Every year I go to see the hard work that the 4-H kids and others put into all the cakes, sewing, crafts and animals, and it always makes me cringe when I see those symbols of hate for sale at what should be a happy, educational, fun family time," Clark, 70, of Southwest Greensburg, wrote in an email to the board "in light of recent history."

Member Charlie Feightner said the fair board got together over the weekend in response to social media complaints about the flags and decided to request they be removed "as a precaution," though there had been no threats or protests since the fair opened Aug. 18.

Only two or three vendors, including the amusements provider, were affected by the request and all were willing to go along, Feightner said.

"It's not like we were inundated with Confederate flags or vendors selling it," Feightner said. "We'd had some negative comments on social media — and some positive, but more negative."

One of the affected vendors was New Jersey-based Mountain Tees and More, where husband and wife Dave and Shelly Carr were getting ready to remove flag-branded T-shirts and belt buckles from their tent to their storage trailer before opening Monday afternoon. They said the fear of demonstrations against the Confederate symbols, which they viewed as just a historical emblem, drove them to agree to pull the merchandise when the fair board asked.

"This is going to affect all our customers because this is where they knew they could come and get them," Shelly Carr said.

Farther down the midway, American flags, "Thin Blue Line" flags and their pro-firefighter counterparts fluttered on a line staked off from another vendor's trailer, while Confederate flags were crumpled on top of a plastic tote stacked nearby. The Carrs said they'd taken down the physical flags outside before the official request came to pull their Confederate merchandise as well.

"At first, (the fair) said, 'Take the flags down,' but the self-righteous people weren't satisfied with that," Dave Carr said. "We thought we'd be better safe than sorry."

A push to remove, reduce the prominence of or add context to Confederate flags and monuments gained traction in 2015 after Dylann Roof went into a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., and killed nine people there out of racist hatred.

Business and political leaders around the country saw the Confederate flag Roof flew and monuments to the Confederacy around the country as symbols of white supremacy and the slavery Southern states seceded to protect; major retailers yanked Confederate flags from their shelves.

The violent rally in Charlottesville this month renewed that push.

Ostensibly called to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a park there, the rally degenerated into violence as white supremacists and neo-Nazis clashed with counter-protesters. One counter-protester died when a man drove his car into a marching crowd after police had broken up the fights near the park.

A few retailers who still sold Confederate flags, including New Stanton-based Online Stores LLC, pulled the merchandise last week in response to Charlottesville.

Confederate merchandise was a best-seller at previous fairs , and even went up in the immediate aftermath of the Charleston shooting, despite Pennsylvania being a Union state in the Civil War.

Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724 836 6660, msantoni@tribweb.com or on Twitter @msantoni.

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