The Spoonbread Festival, canceled last year over a brouhaha regarding the display or sale of merchandise depicting the Confederate flag, will return in September.
To the applause of a packed house Tuesday night at City Hall, Mayor Steve Connelly and Chamber of Commerce president Scott Thompson shook hands after each signed an agreement that outlines conditions for the event’s resumption. As in the past, the chamber will organize the event and the city will provide park space, $5,000 for promotion, and in-kind resources for the festival.
The Berea City Council also voted unanimously Tuesday for a resolution affirming its support for the festival.
Thompson said the event, named for a cornmeal-based dish popular at Boone Tavern in Berea, is scheduled for Sept. 15 to 17. In 2015, the three-day festival attracted 60,000 people.
“I know the citizens of Berea want Spoonbread to happen because they’re telling us they do,” Thompson said.
After the 2015 festival, some people began to demand that the chamber ban the sale or display of the Confederate flag. Protestors marched outside the chamber office, and a group called Bereans United for Racial Justice said the Confederate flag contradicted the principles of inclusion on which Berea was founded. Berea College is known as the first integrated college in the South.
Chamber representatives and Connelly said the battle flag wasn’t the only issue that brought conflict and misunderstanding last year. There were logistical problems, too, in preparing for the festival.
“We got to the point that we couldn’t ensure that we could do the thing in a quality way and a safe way,” Thompson said in explaining why the chamber canceled the 2016 event.
Thompson told the city hall audience that the chamber “is against anything discriminatory, anything that promotes hate. We’re against those things. We’ve always had a policy to say we are. ...What we’re here tonight to do is to prove that.”
One condition of the signed agreement says the chamber will not sell, display or give away, or permit any vendor or attendee to sell, display or give away, any merchandise that resembles the Confederate flag except for history books or “other educational, cultural, artistic and interpretive media” that depicts the flag. That includes literature related to a Civil War battle that happened in Madison County.
The agreement will also allow displays “reflecting the influence of popular culture” such as an automobile in a car show that resembles the “General Lee,” a 1969 Dodge Charger from the TV show “The Dukes of Hazzard.” Such a car with a Confederate flag on the roof won “best of show” in the 2015 festival’s auto show.
Any violation of the conditions will result in a denial to participate in the event or to use the public land or space in future years.
The agreement says the sanctions are “intended to ensure that the Confederate battle flag or emblem ... is not used as a symbol of segregation, domination, white supremacy, or to suppress minority rights on city property or at city events or sponsored activities.”
During a public comment period, Berea resident Shane Morris said the effort to restrict the Confederate flag was to push “a political agenda” and amounted to “policing thought.”
But city council member Bruce Fraley said the agreement is an example of what can be done to find common ground for the benefit of the community,