State pulls gift shop Rebel flag items

The state of Arkansas has removed items depicting the Confederate Battle Flag from the gift shop at Historic Washington State Park in Hempstead County.

“We apologize that these items were still being sold at the park,” according to a statement Tuesday from Arkansas State Parks and the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.

“Part of the park’s mission is to interpret the years that the town was the Confederate capital of Arkansas during the Civil War, but that can be done without offering for sale any items with a symbol that has become hurtful and divisive,” according to the statement. “Our interpretation of that time must be done in a respectful manner.”

Grady Spann, director of Arkansas State Parks, and Stacy Hurst, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, learned of the rebel flags through a Twitter post, said spokeswoman Melissa Whitfield.

On Sunday, Aaron Sadler of Little Rock posted photographs of the items on Twitter along with the message: “It’s one thing to tell about our state’s ignominious history. It’s quite another to profit from it. I encourage Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Stacy Hurst to remove items celebrating the Confederacy from state park gift shops.”

Items in the photographs included 3-by-5-foot Confederate Battle Flags, small rebel flags, and Confederate Battle Flags on shot glasses, “can coolers,” pins and pendants, or “dog tags.”

Sadler said he was “shocked” to see the rebel flag items during a visit to the park over the weekend.

“If they serve an educational purpose, then I understand and respect that, but rebel flags on shot glasses?” said Sadler, a public relations man who served as a spokesman for four attorneys general in four different states, including Arkansas.

“The dog tags, the koozies just didn’t seem fitting for a place that’s financed by our tax dollars and where we expect out-of-state tourists to come and see the best of Arkansas,” Sadler said Tuesday. “I want my African-American neighbors to be able to go to a state park and not feel out of place and not feel unwanted.”

Park Directive 2026 of 2006 says items “deemed inappropriate for sale in Arkansas State Park facilities” include: “items that convey ‘any message, visual or verbal, that is violent, sexual or otherwise discriminates on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age or disability.”

“The policy will be updated and reviewed with staff to make sure it is understood,” Whitfield said in an email.

After Sadler’s tweet Sunday, he posted a similar message Monday on Facebook.

“These items serve no educational purpose, and the state is profiting off a symbol of hate,” Sadler wrote on Facebook. “I’m going to try my best to call attention to this and get these items taken off the shelves.”

On Tuesday, Sadler said it wasn’t his tweet and a subsequent Facebook post that got the rebel flag items removed. Others who saw his social media posts and contacted state officials did that.

“I might have said it out loud first, but the blessing was in the echo,” he said.

Whitfield said she didn’t know how long the rebel flag items were for sale at Historic Washington State Park. She said state officials were checking Tuesday to see if other state park gift shops were selling similar items.

An employee of Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park said they haven’t sold the Confederate Battle Flag in years, but they do sell the First National Confederate Flag, which is known as the Stars and Bars.

She said it’s more “historically accurate” for Arkansas.

“Among the several Arkansas regiments that used this pattern were the Sixth Regiment Arkansas Volunteers, the Eighth Regiment Arkansas Infantry, and the Eleventh Regiment Arkansas Infantry,” according to the Arkansas Encyclopedia. “The vast majority of these first flags were made by various women’s sewing circles around the state.”

“The Confederate Battle Flag, also known as the rebel flag, is the item that has been removed from Arkansas State Park gift shops,” Whitfield said Tuesday. “The First National Confederate Flag, which is historically accurate as being used in Arkansas during the Civil War, flies at Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park and is on some items for sale in its gift shop. We’ll continue to examine our policies related to what items are appropriate for resale in our state park gift shops.”

In the fall of 1863, during the Civil War, the Confederate government of Arkansas fled from Little Rock and moved to Washington, 120 miles to the southwest, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. The Hempstead County Courthouse in Washington served as the state capital from 1863 to 1865.

While in Washington, Ark., on Sunday, Sadler made a verbal request under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act regarding the rebel flags for sale in the gift shop.

According to the response he received Tuesday, the gift shop took in $1,300 from the sale of Confederate Battle Flag items since Jan. 1, 2018.

Besides the items already mentioned, the list included Civil War Series Playing Cards, Confederate Flag Playing Cards and Confederate Flag Stickers.

Since Jan. 1, 2018, the gift shop has sold 71 large Confederate Battle Flags priced at $8.99 each and 48 Confederate Battle Flag shot glasses at $4.79 each.

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