Vendor's Confederate Flag at Festival Causes Outrage; Protest Planned Today

Sunday, August 9, 2015, 9:42 am
Alice Dreger

Image: The photo provided by Dee Jordan to City Council on Friday night

The posting of a confederate flag by a vendor at the Great Lakes Folks Festival (GLFF) in downtown East Lansing is causing public outrage and will result in a protest later today. Friday night, Zemer’s Homemade Rootbeer was spotted having the confederate flag posted on its festival booth. After complaints were made, the flag was apparently taken down, but it was back up by 10 pm last night (Saturday).

A protest is being organized today by Councilmember Ruth Beier. Beier has produced a flyer that she will encourage festival visitors to hand to the Zemer’s vendor instead of buying a root beer. It says, “I want to buy a root beer, but I don’t tolerate hate, so I will spend my money elsewhere.” The flyer contains a photo taken last night of the booth with the confederate flag posted in a window. Beier will be standing near the booth handing copies of the flyer to anyone who wants to participate.

Dee Jordan, a University Enrichment Fellow and Doctoral Student in MSU’s Department of Geography, spotted the flag Friday night when she was at the festival with a new graduate student that Jordan was welcoming to town. Both are women of color.

In an email interview late yesterday, Jordan told me that she and her new colleague were going to purchase root beer floats “when a lady approached me and said, ‘ma'am, the gentleman has a confederate sign’” on his truck. Jordan told me, “Initially I was shocked and surprised because I have only been in East Lansing attending MSU for 1 year and have largely felt safe and welcomed in the community. So I walked around to the food truck and saw the flag displayed in the window of the truck.” 

Jordan told me, “My heart sank because I'm a black woman from the South and in my own family [we] have deep wounds left from the history of the flag, what it represents and the institutions who still worship and honor the memory of those past acts. Then I became embarrassed because I was showing a new graduate student around town on her first day in East Lansing.”

She had previously told her fellow graduate student “how great a community EL was[,] how I admired Mayor Triplet for the great job he is doing in the City and how much I was enjoying my experience at MSU.” She said she and the other woman became “dismayed because it was then that we realized how inescapable racism and hate are.”

Jordan says she went to the festival information booth to alert the staff. She says she was told they already knew about it. She expressed dismay that taxpayer dollars would be funding this, but, she tells me, the staff person she spoke to “said the higher ups knew about it and would handle it diplomatically. I told her that I would be contacting the City Council and the Mayor because diplomatically or not, EL is no place for hate.”

Jordan reported the situation to East Lansing’s City Council via an email sent at 10:22 pm Friday night. Jordan told Council, “I have largely enjoyed living here for the past year and wished better care and concern had been taken by the festival organizers to ensure that even if a person believes in exclusion, they should not be allowed to put up such a symbol of hate, oppression, marginalization and death at a public event.”

Councilmember Ruth Beier responded to Jordan on Saturday morning to say she was contacting City Manager George Lahanas. Beier later let Jordan know the flag was down but asked Jordan to alert her if it was up again. Beier tells ELi that she was informed by another constituent that the flag was up again last night. A photo from that individual confirmed it.

Jordan believes that yesterday a protest waged by the Student Action Network helped with removal of the flag, but we’ve been unable to confirm whether such a protest occurred. An inquiry to City Manager Lahanas about the matter from me has gone unanswered.

Jordan tells me she is “satisfied with the responsiveness of the City Council answering my email and taking the matter seriously. However, I am not happy that the GLFF did not have the vendor remove his flag on Friday after the first complaints were made.” She said she would expect the GLFF to have arrangements with vendors that would prevent “vendors from displaying remarks that would be perceived as inflammatory or divisive to any group, resident or visitor of the festival.” 

As of 9:30 am this morning, the flag was not showing in the window of the vendor’s booth. Beier says that because the flag reappeared last night, she will be standing near the vendor’s booth today with flyers ready for anyone who wants to hand a flyer to the Zemer’s vendor. ELi will continue to follow this story.


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