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Ball embraces ‘Summer Nights’

‘Southern Delights’ theme changed over racial concerns
By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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This August’s Black & White Ball in Auburn is changing its theme, dropping any possible racially insensitive misunderstandings with its old “Southern Delights” direction in favor of the more all-encompassing “Summer Nights.” Auburn Chamber of Commerce representatives outlined the decision to drop the Southern motif at a meeting of the Gold Country Fair Board on Thursday and publicly announced the change in a statement issued Friday. Bruce Cosgrove, chamber executive director, told the board that questions had been raised after the initial selection of the “Southern Delights: Let the Good Times Roll” theme. “It was a wakeup call for us and a good thing it happened,” Cosgrove said. “We don’t want to go down a path that could be misconstrued and taken advantage of.” The ball is drawing from a regional market that is more multi-ethnic than Auburn’s population and there were questions about whether the larger audience base would embrace a theme partly based on the antebellum South. Ball organizers included examples of Confederate uniforms as possible costumes during a Powerpoint presentation earlier this month unveiling its “Southern Delights: Let the Good Times Roll” theme for the Aug. 29 ball and later issued a news release saying they were expecting those costumes at the ball. One of the models wore a uniform that included a hat with the Southern Cross battle flag used by the Confederacy during the Civil War. In more recent times, it has been adopted by hate groups, including the Ku Klux Klan and its appearances at public events and schools has raised protests and even outright bans. “We chose Southern Delight because of a focus on Southern food, culture and music,” Cosgrove said. “We selected Southern music ranging from Elvis to country to zydeco.” Key Black & White Ball organizers – including Cosgrove, president Ann Rivero, and longtime committee member Rosie Mietzel – said before the meeting that the connection between the ball and strong Confederate symbolism was unintentional. All board members are white. The three said the Southern theme was chosen mainly because it would best make use of the trees and greenery of the new fairgrounds location. “We didn’t know there was that sensitivity,” Cosgrove said. Cosgrove said the Southern theme was meant to create a mood at the fairgrounds, with lights festooned on trees, lighting to create a bayou atmosphere and decorations to mimic a riverboat setting. He said it was unfortunate that Confederate soldiers were included in the initial presentation. There will be no flags displayed by the chamber at the event, he said. Gold Country Fair board vice chairman Casey Cummings said before the meeting that he wasn’t comfortable with Confederate flags and uniforms. Cummings, who is black, said it would be out of place, particularly in California. “Personally I’m not a big fan of that,” Cummings said. “There are a lot of people who wouldn’t like it at all.” After the chamber presentation, he said that the change was welcome. The original theme could have been misconstrued, particularly by people unfamiliar with beautiful parts of the South, he said. Ernie Daniels, another fair-board member who is also black, said he appreciated the courage of the Black & White Ball to being sensitive to the overall community. Tom Grayson, executive director of Golden Sierra Life Skills in Auburn, said in an interview earlier this month that he’s not personally bothered by people displaying Confederate flags “because the war is over and they lost.” Grayson, a black who has attended past Black & White balls, said, however, that the “South Shall Rise Again” stigma associated with the Confederacy and the South would likely not prove a popular draw in the region, where other communities are more multi-ethnic. “Usually when we put on something we really open it up to all peoples,” Grayson said. Addressing the fair board, Cosgrove said that the ball committee has had to stop and think about its theme in the past. After concerns were raised in 2007 by the Auburn Police Department, ball organizers banned toy guns or other weapon replicas. The theme that year revolved around James Bond and spy intrigue. Mietzel, a ball committee member and entertainment chairman for many years, said discussion about the ball theme this year revolved around the elegance of the South, the beauty of the hoopskirts and parasols and even more modern concepts like the region’s links to Elvis Presley. “We wanted to take the ball back to a kinder, gentler place,” Mietzel said. The ball had been criticized in recent years because of concerns about fighting and drunkenness and the Southern theme was a chance to bring a different atmosphere to the event, she said. Cosgrove said there would still be Southern-themed aspects of the newly re-themed ball but that “you’re not going to have any confederate flags flying at the Black & White Ball.” The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com. -------------------------------- Popular Auburn ball has backers, opposition The Black & White Ball moves from Downtown Auburn to the Gold Country Fairgrounds for the first time this Aug. 29. This will be the 18th annual late-summer ball. It drew 6,000 people last year for a night of music, food and partying but also took place with its share of opponents. The Auburn Chamber of Commerce organizes the event and draws on the support of nearly 100 local businesses as sponsors and more than 400 volunteers on ball night. It has plenty of support from within and outside the chamber. Rosie Mietzel, last year’s event chairwoman, has pointed to the income from the ball that helps the business organization put on other events like the Festival of Lights parade in December and Auburn’s Family Fourth of July celebration. Charitable donations from ball profits go to several local causes, including the Auburn Boys & Girls Club, the Auburn Placer Performing Arts Center, and Raley’s Food for Families. The ball last year received major sponsorship from Thunder Valley Casino, among other organizations. But the ball has also gained its share of detractors over the years. Colfax’s Richard Miller stated after last year’s ball, where at least 25 driving-under-the-influence charges were made near the event, that the time had come to stop holding it. He described it as a drunken brawl taxing police services and the courts. Two arrests for fighting at the ball were recorded last year. Many Downtown Auburn business owners complained about the loss of business on the Saturday of the ball as areas were progressively fenced off and customers were unable to gain easy access to some stores. Mickey Bennett, of Mickey’s Boots, for instance, said the event cost him $2,000 in business. To make matters worse, the Golden Swann’s Ben Asgharzadeh said he discovered that use of the Auburn clocktower electrical connections for the ball had burned out the clocktower computer. The new location, which chamber Executive Director Bruce Cosgrove said would be conducive to the “Summer Nights” atmosphere the ball is promoting this year, is the second time a venue other than the streets of Downtown have been chosen. A move to the Auburn Municipal Airport for two years failed to increase attendance and the event was moved back at its original location. In making the move, ball chairman Ron Solomon said it could save the chamber thousands of dollars because the fairgrounds already has its own permanent stages, restrooms, power and is in a secured, fenced area. – Gus Thomson