The Platte County Fair has a queen contest, a truck and tractor pull, a demolition derby, a livestock show, a Dirty Shame Saloon — and until Wednesday afternoon, a Confederate battle flag.
The flag was a prominent part of the stage background at the saloon Wednesday as preparations were made for opening night of what organizers call “the oldest continuously operating fair west of the Mississippi River.”
But the flag was removed shortly after The Kansas City Star asked fair officials about it.
Controversy over Confederate flags intensified in the wake of the massacre last month at a black church in Charleston, S.C. Photographs emerged of the alleged gunman posing with the Confederate flag.
That led to the removal of the flag from in front of the South Carolina Capitol earlier this month.
“I told them (after) the fair board meeting a month ago they ought to take the thing down, and they all laughed,” said Platte County Fair board member Carl Myers.
His brother, Keith Myers, who is a stockholder of the fair and a staff photographer for The Kansas City Star, brought the matter up again at a meeting Sunday. He said he was told the flag would stay.
The flag came up again at a special meeting Tuesday night, where there was a vote by show of hands.
“The board came to the conclusion that they were going to leave the flag hanging,” fair board president Gary Fleming Jr. told The Star on Wednesday afternoon, adding that it had been there since the 1924 dance hall was renamed the Dirty Shame Saloon in 1963. The fairgrounds are private property.
The Confederate battle flag, to many a symbol of racism, made its appearance in quite a few places during the contentious civil rights era of the ’60s.
Platte County isn’t the deep south, but it does have a Civil War history. Platte City was burned by the Union army, which captured Confederate soldiers there in 1861.
The Platte County Fair, which began in 1858, was suspended for two years during the war before resuming in 1863.
“It’s just a decoration, the story of this county,” Fleming said. “The Platte County Fair supports the history of all of this county, not just part of the county.”
Judy Davis, vice president of the fair board, said there were no racists or bigots on the board or among the stockholders. She thinks that’s why it did not occur to members to consider removing the flag.
“I didn’t even remember it being there,” said Davis, who voted Tuesday to take the flag down. “... It doesn’t have a place of honor. It’s just there.”
The flag was centered above the stage backdrop Wednesday, next to an old Platte City population sign and above the words “dirty shame.”
A U.S. flag also was hanging prominently above the stage Wednesday, but it was not in that position Sunday, Keith Myers said.
Fleming said there has always been a U.S. flag in the saloon. “We’re Americans,” he said.
Davis said the issue of whether to remove the Confederate battle flag would be taken up with the larger group of stockholders when they meet in the fall.
But about two hours later, the flag was gone from the saloon wall.
“We folded it up and put it away until after our annual stockholders meeting so they can decide what to do,” Fleming said when reached again by The Star.