Photo: William Baker
Bikes, Blues and BBQ organizers hope to avoid the Confederate flag controversy that strained relations with some community members last year.
For 17 years, thousands of people from the region and around the country have visited Dickson Street for the annual not-for-profit bikers’ rally. The rally’s main events are just a short walk from campus and include a bike parade, concerts and a BBQ competition.
Students and local residents are invited to attend the rally, but last year the display of the Confederate flag kept some people away.
Two Fayetteville residents called on BBB to condemn the Confederate symbol. After a petition was posted on change.org, members of the University of Arkansas Associated Student Government and the Graduate Student Congress passed a resolution “against symbols of divisiveness at the Bikes, Blues and BBQ Rally.”
The resolution said “in the past, there has been evidence of overt displays featuring the Confederate flag during the Bikes, Blues & BBQ rally, to support attitudes of white supremacy.”
The University of Arkansas did not comment on the issue, student leaders said.
Aaryn Boudreaux, a sophomore, said that the silence is alarming considering how close BBB is to students.
“Being a black female in the South, I feel unwanted, unwelcome, and unsafe when I’m in the direct vicinity of the flag,” Boudreaux said. “We have so many students from around the country and the world and it’s sad to think they have to see such a trashy symbol.”
JP Gairhan, ASG’s director of student safety and co-author of the resolution, said that although the resolution did not result in a statement from the university, it did start a conversation on campus about hate symbols.
“I thought it was an opportunity to say something that might not have been popular, but was at the end of the day the right thing to say,” Gairhan said.
The BBB Web site says that BBB “has always taken pride in being a family friendly event, inclusive of all members of the community. Bikes, Blues and BBQ in no way condones or accepts racism, white supremacy, bigotry, fascism, intolerance or hate speech.”
Executive Director of Bikes, Blues and BBQ Tommy Sisemore said that his group is responsive to Confederate flag concerns.
“We’ve had meetings on top of meetings with the university, with Fayetteville Police Department and with my board,” he said.
Sisemore also said leaders would enforce a ban on sales of Confederate flag merchandise by official vendors.
“Last year, we took the stance that if it was small and minute, we would have them move it to the back of the tent,” Sisemore said. “This year, we’ll just ask them to pack it up.”
Confederate flag merchandise has been controversial at other rallies, said Bonnie Ramsier, a BBB vendor.
“I’ve been asked to remove it at other rallies before. I’m just going with what people ask me to do,” Ramsier said. “But we have never associated it with anything bad. I feel it’s our history, and we can’t erase our history.”
Caroline Minor is a junior in the University of Arkansas School of Journalism and Strategic Media. She will be covering BBB on Twitter @Caroline_CMinor.