SOUTH CAROLINA: Charleston Sailing Club Changes Burgee That Resembled Confederate Flag

The Charleston Ocean Racing Association has voted to change its burgee, which has been heavily criticized because it closely resembles the Confederate battle flag.

The question that remains is whether the vote is enough to save Sperry’s sponsorship of 2021 Charleston Ocean Racing Week.

Sperry, a boat shoe company that has sponsored the Lowcountry competition for several years, is reviewing its support of the event due to CORA’s logo.

“Sperry is aware of the result of Charleston Ocean Racing Week’s vote to change the symbol on their logo that resembles a Confederate flag and is very pleased with the outcome and will take that into account when reviewing our sponsorship plans for 2021,” said Sperry President Joelle Grunberg.

That decision will probably not come before December, Sperry spokeswoman Edina Sultanik said.

Charleston’s annual race week is scheduled for April 8-11, said event Director Randy Draftz. The races themselves won’t be heavily impacted by the coronavirus, but post-race events that have drawn up to 2,000 people will have to modified and maybe done virtually over Zoom, Draftz said.

Draftz said the race will still take place if the major branding company pulls out. But Sperry’s withdrawal would impact the competition’s bottom line, he said.

CORA’s mid-October vote to change the burgee passed with the more than the two-thirds majority required by the organization. The decision, limited to boat owners, passed with 26 of 37 votes in favor of the change, according to an email sent to members after the vote. But that measure squeaked by, barely surpassing the 25 votes needed.

The simple modifications to the symbol include inversing the colors, transforming the emblem into a mostly blue banner with a red stripe that runs through the middle and contains four stars.

Commodore Andy Guhl said he is relieved the contentious issue is finally behind the group.

“Our membership did the right thing,” he said.

As an associate member, Patrick Chisum was not able to participate in the vote. But he supports the decision and looks forward to CORA returning attention to its main objectives, which include promoting good relationships among sailors, he said.

“I think that resolving the burgee issue was a good thing for the sport and organization so we’re not distracted by things that take away from our ultimate goal,” he said.

The symbol has long divided the organization, with some boaters previously threatening to leave the group over the emblem.

Those in favor of altering the flag said this was a rebranding opportunity for the Charleston racing group, and that the symbol has kept others from joining the organization.

Others have said the banner represented history and tradition and was not created as a symbol of racism.

In August, boaters voted 37-22 to remove the symbol. But 40 votes, or a two-thirds majority, were needed for the motion to pass.

Sperry said in September it had placed its sponsorship of race week under review “due to CORA’s logo currently including a motif on its flag that resembles the Confederate battle flag.”

“Sperry in no way supports the Confederate flag and what it stands for, and the flag runs contrary to Sperry’s values as a welcoming and inclusive brand,” Grunberg said at the time. “CORA’s board will be voting on whether or not to change the organization’s logo in October, and the status of Sperry’s sponsorship will be evaluated based on the outcome of that vote.”

A groundswell of support for removing Confederate-era monuments has been exhibited across the nation. In Charleston, the city took down the John C. Calhoun statue, a monument many criticized as honoring a staunch proponent of slavery.