LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s state fair board and its parks department took stands Thursday to block the sale of Confederate battle flag merchandise, actions praised by a civil rights leader but condemned by a rebel flag supporter who called it “viewpoint discrimination.”
State parks officials said its gift shops will no longer sell caps, shirts and other items strictly featuring the battle flag. The ban includes the Jefferson Davis State Historic Site, a memorial to the native Kentuckian who was the Confederacy’s president.
“The display and sale of the Confederate battle flag has historically played a small part in the operation of Kentucky State Parks,” Parks Commissioner Elaine Walker said. “However, given the recent controversy surrounding this symbol, the Kentucky Department of Parks felt it was important to ensure our policy was sensitive to all our guests and users.”
Items featuring both the U.S. and Confederate flags can remain on gift shop shelves, as well as educational materials such as books and DVDs that “put the flag in historical context,” the parks department said in a release.
The actions come after police say a white man who appeared in photos waving a Confederate flag carried out a shooting rampage that killed nine people at a black church in South Carolina last month. The suspect, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, is white. Federal authorities say his personal writings decried integration and used racial slurs.
Meanwhile, the state fair board took steps to ban the sale or giveaway of items displaying the Confederate battle flag. That ban will apply to future contracts with vendors for events at the state fairgrounds and a downtown Louisville convention center the fair board also operates.
Raoul Cunningham, leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Kentucky, said the action represented progress against “what is considered to be hate literature.”
Cunningham had asked the fair board to halt sales of Confederate-related items at the state fair. The veteran civil rights leader said the action is “basically symbolic” but said he hopes it leads to “a real understanding and dialogue of race relations, religious relations in the country.”
Fred C. Wilhite, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said the actions would “hammer a wedge between people.”
“When you say that you’re going to eliminate only one side of the issue of the war and who fought it, that is viewpoint discrimination and unconstitutional,” said Wilhite, the heritage defense officer for the organization’s Kentucky division.
The fair board’s resolution said the Confederate battle flag “is offensive to many” people.
State fair board chairman Mark Lynn said fair officials would urge vendors under existing contracts to honor the new policy against the sale of Confederate battle flag merchandise. He said future or renewed contracts would bind vendors to the policy.
Lynn said fair officials would not shut down vendors operating under existing contracts and who sell Confederate items at this year’s state fair later this summer. The policy also will not affect people who display Confederate items when attending the fair, Lynn said.
Meanwhile, still to be decided is the fate of the Jefferson Davis statue that’s been a fixture in the Kentucky Capitol in Frankfort. The state Historic Properties Advisory Commission has been taking public input leading up to a meeting next month on whether the Davis statue will be moved.
The debates have evoked Kentucky’s complicated racial history as a state that never officially joined the Confederacy but did host a shadow Confederate government and supplied many soldiers for the South during the Civil War.
Elsewhere, the Indiana State Fair has asked vendors not to sell or display Confederate flag merchandise at next month’s event. The fair made the request in a letter sent to vendors this week, WRTV (http://bit.ly/1Mqzd9Z) reported.
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