BEREA, Ky. (AP) — An annual festival that draws thousands of people to a small central Kentucky city has been canceled this year because of controversy over selling and displaying merchandise depicting the Confederate flag.
News outlets report the Berea Chamber of Commerce has voted not to hold its annual Spoonbread Festival this year, citing concerns after recent protests over the Confederate flag.
This would have marked the 20th anniversary for the festival, previously scheduled for Sept. 16-18.
Participants and vendors displayed or sold Confederate flags for years without generating complaints. After the 2015 festival, however, some demanded a ban on the sale or display of the rebel flag
City leaders wanted to use the festival contract to ban the flag. The chamber, instead, said the city should pass an ordinance banning the flag so participants would have to conform to the law.
The chamber also says the city demanded vendors at the festival get a business license.
The city "placed the chamber in a compromising position. We are a nonpartisan business entity that cannot take sides on issues such as the Confederate flag," Chamber President Jennifer Napier told news reporters.
The controversy arose in a community known for Berea College which, according to its website, was the first college in the South to be integrated.
A group called Bereans United for Racial Justice said the Confederate flag contradicted the principles of inclusion on which Berea was founded.
Some Berea businesses fear they will lose thousands of dollars from the loss of the three-day festival celebrating the cornmeal-based dish, and the particular spoonbread recipe featured at Boone Tavern in Berea.
Last year the festival attracted 60,000 people.
Boone Tavern general manager Gary McCormick estimates the loss of the festival could cost the business as much as $15,000.
"I feel really disappointed," he said. "Economically is one thing. I just disappointed our community couldn't work this out."