The recently amped-up Confederate flag controversy doesn’t seem to be disappearing, and concerns are being raised about how things will play out at one of the area’s most succulent traditions, the Hanover Tomato Festival.
About 35,000 spectators are expected to attend the event July 11 at Pole Green Park in Mechanicsville, where they’ll enjoy the locally famous tomatoes and check out the wares from 200 vendors.
But as in years past, some of those vendors may be touting the Confederate flags, which have received increased attention in the wake of recent national events.
It’s a “concern,” says Robert N. Barnette, head of the Hanover chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, whose members will be discussing the issue. “We will have a statement on it before the festival opens.”
Mike Sarahan, a Richmond community activist, says he’s seen the flag flown in large numbers across the festival. “The Sons of Confederate Veterans had booths and they were handing out flags to kids,” he says. “I didn’t feel too comfortable about it.”
After the June 17 shootings of nine worshippers at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church by a self-styled white supremacist in Charleston, S.C., governors in South Carolina and Alabama moved to take down the Confederate flag from their capitol grounds. In Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe ordered the Department of Motor Vehicles to stop issuing specialty license plates that display the flag.
Two Sons of Confederate Veterans groups are listed as vendors at the tomato festival — the SOV Cold Harbor Guards Camp No. 1764 and the Brig. Gen. W.C. Wickham Camp No. 2250.
Darryl Starnes, commander of the latter unit, declines to say if the flag will be flown at his booth. “I feel we’re going into so much controversy,” he says, “I’d rather not talk about it.”
Groups may display the flag if they choose to do so, festival spokeswoman Marcie Durrer says: “As long as they follow regulations as vendors, we have no concerns.”