Travis Graalman

Los Angeles

To the editor:

I’m a graduate of Stillwater High School, class of 1993. Currently I live in Los Angeles where I work in the film industry, and this past weekend I brought my family home for Labor Day so our son could spend some time with his grandparents. We hit all our favorite stops: The Hideaway; the WONDERtorium; The Colvin Center; and for the first time in 30 years, the Payne County Fair. I was excited to return to a place l spent evenings with my family at back in the 80s at the close of summer, with the opportunity to see it through my boy’s eyes. But when I wandered onto the grounds I realized the Fair was sending me further into the past than I’d bargained for, as Confederate Flags were waving in our Oklahoma sky.

I’ve always been proud to have grown up in Stillwater. My first school, Westwood Elementary, was comprised of Oklahomans as well as families from abroad who had come to a new land to study and make a better life, at Oklahoma State University. Some of my very first friends were from Thailand, the Middle East and Africa; Westwood truly was a melting pot, and this rich cultural foundation has served me well in my travels abroad, where I’m constantly exposed to other lifestyles and stories.

So when I brought my wife and son to the fairgrounds and saw American flags and Confederate flags flying side-by-side, I had to wonder what had become of Stillwater? Isn’t a county fair supposed to impart a sense of ‘this is who we are as a culture ... and as a proud American county’? Maybe the area the flags were waving from was tended to by the GOP, with jurisdiction only over that section of the fairground. But the blue-ribbon chickens, horses and prize-winning mixed berry pies on display by the 4-H and other organizations represented the very best of those institutions, while the Confederate flag points to a much more divisive and hurtful history.

To make matters even stranger – from this Fair-goers perspective – Oklahoma wasn’t in the Confederacy during the Civil War. It wasn’t even the state of OKLAHOMA yet. When you adopt a symbol that’s not a part of your heritage then all you really have to prop up is that symbol’s message – in this case, Oppression – and that this message waved high over our families should be deeply troubling to every resident of Payne County, Republican or Democrat.

By planting this next to the American flag, we feed an antiquated thought – that all men were not created equal – linking that ideology with the USA in our kids’ imaginations just as they’re starting to learn about countries, borders and acceptance.

That’s no fairground for the innocent, and it’s heartbreaking to think that Stillwater could have a foot planted so firmly in a past that was never its own to claim in the first place.

Recommended for you