In a meeting March 25, over 40 area residents opposed to the sale of Confederate flag merchandise at the Delaware County Fair confronted leaders of the local Cornell Cooperative Extension, demanding that Cornell should not support a fair that allows these racist materials to be sold. The Delaware County Cornell Cooperative Extension provides major support for the county fair through its CCE and 4H programming.
Lee Fisher, president of the Oneonta chapter of the NAACP, reminded the board that the perpetrators of the white-supremacist terror attacks in Charleston, South Carolina, in Charlottesville, Virginia, and at a New Zealand mosque on March 15 all chose the Confederate flag as a symbol for their actions.
“If you want America to be great, we need to make a change,” Fisher said.
Fisher showed each CCE board member a photo of Dylann Roof, who murdered nine black parishioners in Charleston, displaying a Confederate flag. The flag has been a rallying symbol for white terrorists across the country. In response to Roof's attack, the state government of South Carolina voted to stop displaying the Confederate flag on public property. Retailers such as Wal-Mart, Amazon, and eBay decided to stop selling Confederate-themed and other racist merchandise. And the New York State fair instructed its vendors to stop selling such items at the fair. But at too many county fairs in New York --- which lost more soldiers than any state during the Civil War --- Confederate merchandise is on full display.
CCE board chair Craig Dumond, who is also the Delaware County Sheriff, stated that “diversity and inclusivity are cornerstones of what Cornell stands for.” However, for the past year, the CCE board has declined to take any action based on those ideals, instead choosing to “remain neutral” on the question of whether the fair board should adopt a policy prohibiting Confederate and other racist merchandise.
Board member Bud Gladstone, who is also the Andes town supervisor, was the only board member who ventured to take a stand while members of the public were present.
“Division in this country is the worst it’s been in 50 years and it’s growing every day. As CCE, we’re supposed to promote unity,” Gladstone said. “What could it hurt to ask the fair to change its position?”
Reverend Craig Schwalenberg of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Oneonta noted that there has been a 30 percent increase in hate groups in New York in the past two years.
“Supporting diversity is not enough. You have to actually condemn white supremacy,” he said. “Calling on the fair board to ban racist merchandise is the bare minimum you can do. I urge you to speak out.”
“To wax eloquently about Cornell’s high moral values supporting equitable, inclusive environments in all its activities is easy to do; but words alone are empty,” said Bonnie Seegmiller, a leader of Fair for All, a campaign to stop the sale of Confederate flag merchandise across New York State. “CCE needs to do something to demonstrate in deeds that those words actually mean something.”
Fair for All has waged a two-year fight to challenge the sale and display of the Confederate flag at the Delaware County Fair, and last year expanded that campaign to every county fair in the state. In the past month alone, at least two NY county fairs voted to stop allowing the sale of this merchandise (the Gouverneur and St Lawrence Fair and Tioga County Fair). Several other county fairs, as well as the NY State Fair, had already barred the sale of Confederate flag items. County fairs, which are privately run, typically prohibit vendors from selling other objectionable items, such as pornography or alcohol.
Both New York Attorney General Letitia James and State Agricultural Commissioner Richard Ball have called on county fairs to stop selling Confederate flag items, which they charge run contrary to the state’s values. Nevertheless, Confederate flag merchandise was on sale and on full display at the 2018 Delaware County fair. Earlier this month, Fair for All sent a registered letter to the Delaware County Fair Board requesting, once again, that the board forbid fair vendors from selling Confederate flag merchandise.
“We urge the Cornell Cooperative Extension – and all people who value a diverse community – to speak out and take action to stop racism in our area,” said Christina Hunt Wood, co-founder of Fair for All. “Let’s start by making the largest event of the year in our county a welcoming place for everyone.”