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Confederate Flag Still Flies Off The Racks At Kentucky State Fair

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Jim Wathen has been selling military merchandise at the Kentucky State Fair for nearly a decade.

By noon on a recent weekday, he had already restocked a rack of Confederate flags. He said the 3-by-3-inch Confederate flag, his top seller, is a piece of military history.

"It's not anything to do about any racism or anything like that," said Wathen, who also sells sock hats, stickers and patches with the Confederate battle emblem.

But the flag won't be Wathen's top seller at next year's Kentucky State Fair.

The Kentucky State Fair Board voted this summer to ban the sale of the Confederate flag emblem at the fair. Several state agencies throughout the South removed Confederate symbols following a mass shooting at a historic black church in South Carolina.

The fair board's full ban won't go into effect until 2016; nearly every vendor this year had already signed a contract and paid as much $500 in deposit fees prior to the fair board's vote.

In lieu of an outright ban this year, the fair board encouraged vendors to not make the Confederate flag available for purchase or give it away, fair board President Rip Rippetoe said.

Despite the encouragement, a slew of vendors are still selling merchandise adorned with the controversial emblem.

Rippetoe said officials were "having conversations" with those vendors, but until next year they'll have the right to peddle hats, belt buckles, cell phone covers, T-shirts or whatever else they choose.

Wathen said he's aware of the impending ban but plans to sell the flag until he runs out this year. Next year he'll adhere to the ban, he said.

"I go by the law, but I don't always agree with it," he said.

A few booths over, in South Wing B of the Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center, Dreama Butler was selling flags and flagpoles.

She had quite a selection: U.S. flags, state flags and historical flags. But she didn't have any Confederate flags in stock, at least not on that day.

Butler, who travels to fairs across the country, sold out of the Confederate flag well before she arrived in Kentucky, she said. And getting the flag from a distributor isn't easy. But if she could, she'd be selling them at the fair this year — and doing it at a higher price that usual.

In nearly 11 years in the flag business, Butler said the weeks and months following the South Carolina shooting have yielded the highest demand for the Confederate flag she's ever seen.

"I have people that say, 'I would have never have flown a Confederate flag, but if I can find one right now, I will fly it,'" she said.


But not every vendor is trying to meet the revived demand for the Confederate flag.

Billy Sims, who sells light switch covers, isn't offering any merchandise with the Confederate battle flag at this year's state fair.

In fact, despite offering nearly every light switch design imaginable — from birds to beer cans — Sims doesn't sell the Confederate battle flag on his table.

"I've never carried it. But now, knowing it would offend, I wouldn't carry it. Because why would you want to offend?" he said.

Some fair-goers echoed that sentiment.

Near a T-shirt stand, Pope Mobley and a group of friends browsed the shirt designs — a few of which featured Confederate battle flags. He said he isn't in the market for such a shirt, or really anything with the emblem.

Mobley said putting the design on display or selling it is "a little bad taste."

"We are in Kentucky, though," he said.

And the state is still home to Confederate culture.

Marty Stanifer bit into a corndog, careful to keep the yellow mustard off the red, white and blue Confederate battle flag emblazoned on his T-shirt.

"It ain't got nothing to do with no racism or nothing like that," Stanifer said, clearing the mustard from his full, white goatee. "It's just your heritage."

Stanifer was strolling through a strip of booths. He said he likely wouldn't be buying any Confederate flags at the fair, as he already has a sticker on each of his vehicles and has flown a Confederate flag in the front yard of his Okolona home for 17 years.

Stanifer said no one has ever approached him about taking the flag down from his yard.

"Not yet," he said.

Jacob Ryan joined LPM in 2014. Ryan is originally from Eddyville, Kentucky. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.