Confederate flags given out as prizes at the Dakota County Fair rankled several fairgoers last week, resulting in the flags' removal from a game booth in the midway area.

Mark Henry, president of the Dakota County Agricultural Society, said he got one phone call complaining about the flags as prizes. At least two people also posted negative comments on the fair's Facebook page.

A photo of the booth also circulated on Facebook on Saturday, prompting rebukes.

"The Confederate flag is a symbol of slavery, bigotry and hatred," John Stone posted on the fair's page. "I cannot and will not support a fair that condones the distribution of symbols of hate."

Displays of the flag on public property have prompted protests around the country. Opponents see it as a symbol of slavery and oppression. Others, especially in the South, see it as a symbol of their heritage or as a historical artifact.

Henry said he only drove through the midway area once during the day and never noticed the Confederate flag. The agricultural board — which organizes the fair — contracts with Midwest Carnival, and they control the midway and game vendors.

"I sat down with the midway people yesterday, the carnival people, and we had a discussion," Henry said. "As soon as they were aware of it — I don't know all the details — they pulled it right away."

Midwest Carnival did not return a phone call Tuesday.

"I know it's a hot-button issue because of what happened in Virginia," Henry said, citing the white supremacy demonstration and resulting violence last week. "We don't want KKK flags, but on the other hand, there is free speech, too," he said.

Another Facebook poster noticed that there were Confederate flag T-shirts for sale near the fair's entry.

"You should police that better and ensure it is removed," Brenda Ellis Reedy wrote on Facebook. "It's not acceptable in the slightest — I have two children of color that attend the fair."

Henry said everyone has rights, and the fair tries to recognize that without allowing anything too provocative into its gates.

"I'm sorry that somebody was offended by something on our grounds," Henry said. "This is a big event and if you think I'm aware of everything that is going on every minute during this fair, you're mistaken."

Becky Sturm said she saw flag photos in a private Facebook group on Saturday. She had just been to the fair's demolition derby on Friday, an annual family tradition, but hadn't seen the flags. She posted a complaint on the fair's Facebook page.

"I'm just so disturbed by this," Sturm said. "It bothers me and I'm certain I won't go back."

Sturm said that when she had a booth at the Minnesota State Fair, it was inspected daily to make sure its contents were appropriate.

No one defended the flag's presence on the fair's Facebook page. But Austin Toms, a member of a Facebook group called "Defenders of the Confederate Flag," said people misconstrue the flag as a racist symbol "because fake news tells them it is."

He and his grandfather used to put Confederate flags on their cars in the demolition derby, part of a local fair in Maryland, Toms said. But the fair said they had to remove them.

"All they allow now is American flags," Toms said.

Erin Adler • 612-673-1781