Shelby County Fair float stirs up controversy
SHELBY COUNTY — Two Harlan natives, siblings Kathy Byrnes and Brian Byrnes, are expressing their outrage regarding a float in the Shelby County Fair parade.
The float displayed a coffin with a Biden/Harris sign crossed out, and a Trump sign on the tractor pulling it. It is believed this float has also appeared in other parades, including Avoca and Elk Horn.
Following the parade, a Facebook post was made by Kathy, where she expressed her concerns over the float being allowed in the parade. In her post, she said, “I am grieving for my town, my state, and all our senses of humanity.”
They are shaking the tree because of their love and respect for their hometown and the community they love so dearly, the siblings said. They said they do not want this to be swept under the rug and are asking both the Shelby County Fair Board and the City of Harlan to acknowledge this.
A comment on Kathy’s Facebook post says, “Sickening but not surprising…what the younger generation is exposed to and the older generations think is ok in this area and similar parts of this county! ‘This’ kind of stuff is my biggest negative concern as I make plans to retire from my urban life and move back to a rural community!”
Other community members agree with the Byrneses. In a letter to the fair board, Mary Buchanan wrote, “Regardless of anyone’s political beliefs, shouldn’t the Shelby County Fair represent the whole community? Shouldn’t it be a celebration of the hard work of 4H’ers, FFA students, farmers, homemakers, etc, and the blessings we have been given in this beautiful area?”
The siblings feel like this parade entry does not support the City of Harlan’s website statement as being a “friendly, progressive community,” or the theme of the Shelby County Fair Parade, “Best Days of Summer.”
A representative from the Shelby County Fair told Brian the parade is “for the kids”, and said there is a vetting process for entries, but the representative claimed this excludes floats with profanity and threats. Kathy and Brian feel as though the parade entry does not align with the representative’s statement to Brian that the parade is “for the kids.”
“First Amendment rights are highly important,” Brian and Kathy said. “However, this parade item was on or over the line between free expression and hate speech.” They are now asking if this float crosses a legal line.
The float has already gathered national attention due to a Tik Tok video with over 3,500 reactions, including nearly 1,100 comments. Tik Tok user @Adventureous.chickie20 posted “To me, this is a death threat.” This Tik Tok post is one of many that have been circulating the internet over the past week.
The Byrneses do not want to be ignored. According to the pair, several emails have been sent to the fair board, and at the time of publication, they are still waiting for a response. Brian also reached out to the fair board via a phone call and said that he felt his concern was quickly dismissed.
Brian attended the July 18 Harlan City Council meeting to make a statement regarding his response to the float. As a Harlan native and property owner of over a decade, Brian believes that this situation does not accurately reflect Shelby County and the City of Harlan.
“The city of Harlan states themselves as a friendly and progressive community,” Brain said. “I don’t think there’s anything friendly or progressive about this.”
“I really come with the offer to try to be a part of a solution or to be a part of a discussion rather than blaming or finger-pointing,” Brian said.
To preserve the integrity of the community parade, the siblings feel the Shelby County Fair Board is responsible for publicly denouncing the entry, apologizing for the oversight, and creating a policy that protects the free speech of parade entries and also prohibits threats and hate speech.