First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
– Martin Niemöller – German Pastor, circa 1950
South Jersey’s Burlington County is the state’s largest in area and one of the most diverse. It has vast open spaces in and adjacent to the Pinelands as well as suburban traffic jams and large shopping malls. There are historical sites and huge blueberry farms. It’s 74% white and 18% African American. It’s neither a Democratic county nor a Republican county, but elects a healthy mix of men and women from both parties to local and state office.
But despite this diversity, there is still hate and ignorance within the county. There are Klan sympathizers here, and the latest incident at the County Fair shows we have a long way to go.
If someone came to the fair and displayed a Nazi swastika or a Communist hammer and sickle, I’m sure the governing Freeholders would be appalled and would speak out loudly and unambiguously. But what about an equally repulsive symbol – a Confederate flag?
That flag represents the biggest stain on American history. It’s an even bigger stain than 45. It represents the treatment of human beings as property. It symbolizes a world where white men dominate and Blacks, Jews, Muslims, gay people and others are not only marginalized but are targets for discrimination and lynching.
At the recent county fair, several Confederate flags were spotted. So what was the reaction of one of the county’s leaders, Kate Gibbs? According to reports in the Burlington County Times, the deputy director of the Freeholder board tried to deflect that question by noting that the fair is not an “official” county event and then went on to say “All of our residents and visitors should feel comfortable.”
I have no reason to believe that Gibbs is a bigot. But she is certainly clueless. Why didn’t she say that she was deeply hurt by a symbol of America’s dreadful past? Why didn’t she remark that hate has no home in Burlington County? Her tepid response is an insult to all of the people she is supposed to represent, and to humanity as a whole.