HOMESTEAD – Just days before the annual Veterans Day parade in Homestead, the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) group announced on Wednesday that the Confederate battle flag has been banned from the event.
Political observers say the long-simmering feud over the Confederate flag issue contributed to the ouster of Mayor Lynda Bell and three council members from office in Tuesday's election.
“On Monday, November 2, 2009, the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), the oldest veterans group established in 1896 was notified by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post commander Joseph Stahl, that we would not be allowed to enter the Homestead Veteran’s Day parade,’’ Gregory Kalof, commander of the Miami-Dade based Sons of Confederate Veterans camp 471, wrote in a press release sent to the South Florida Times Wednesday morning. “He stated that there were still strong feelings against the participation of the SCV but did not specify if it were the participants, organizers, or outside organizations.’’
Officials with the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) group, which is organizing the Nov. 11 parade, could not be reached for comment about the reported ban.
To some, the Confederate flag is a symbol of southern pride; to others, it is a reminder of slavery, lynching and racial mistreatment.
The controversy in Homestead first erupted after black citizens, including Rosemary Fuller and Pat Mellerson, objected to seeing Confederate soldiers with their battle flags marching in last year’s parade.
“I am a child of the civil rights movement. My parents and grandparents suffered through a lot of discrimination and abuse during those times and that flag was a direct reminder of those things,” Mellerson said. “It’s offensive and represents brutality and oppression to so many people.”
The groups opposing the flag called on the Military Affairs Committee of the Greater Homestead/Florida City Chamber of Commerce, which originally organized the event, and the city of Homestead, which provided in-kind support, to bar Confederate States groups and their memorabilia from future parades.
Homestead officials reacted by explaining that the city was not the parade organizer, and therefore had no authority to ban any organizations from the parade.
The chamber initially could not reach any compromise on the issue. But after months of wrangling and pressure from the Miami-Dade branch of the NAACP and officials in neighboring Florida City, decided in September to cancel the parade altogether.
The local post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Homestead took up the mantel, and applied for permits to organize this year’s parade, which will take place next Wednesday. VFW organizers have yet to confirm if they will impose a ban.
Mellerson said the issue may now be resolved.
“The flag should be in a museum, in their homes, or on their personal cars,” Mellerson said. “We have not been told this, but if it’s true, then it is the right decision. I love parades. They are good for the community and I will have no problem attending.”
In the press release about the flag ban, Kalof tied the fate of the Confederate flag's display at the parade to that of Bell, who lost her re-election bid on Tuesday.
Five of the city’s seven council members were up for re-election. Only one, Councilwoman Judy Waldman, won re-election. Waldman advocated ending the city’s support of the parade if the Confederate groups and their flags were not banned from it.
In stunning fashion, however, Bell and the three other incumbents were defeated by challengers.
Observers on both sides of the issue say they believe the election was a referendum on the flag controversy.
“In our opinion their standard of what has become a politically correct stance against the Confederate Battle Flag and all those that would support it are nothing short of political blackmail,’’ Kaloff wrote in his press release. “The NAACP doesn’t have a record of Veteran’s support but instead only promotes its own agenda of erasing all aspects of Southern heritage. It has contrived a crisis for political ends: to remove Mayor Lynda Bell and council members from the Homestead City government. It seems very clear now that their threats have produced the desired results. For shame, for shame, on the voters and residents of Homestead by not voting or submitting to the sham that has been placed over the City.’’
Fuller, who lives just outside the city’s limits in unincorporated Miami-Dade County, agreed that the flag controversy is what galvanized voters. But she, said, other issues were also at play.
“This was never about Lynda Bell, and it wasn’t politically motivated. She [Lynda Bell] said that. Our focus was always on keeping those offensive flags and symbols from this community event,” Fuller said. “They [council members] just blew it, and the voters spoke on Tuesday. If you go back and look at the council meetings, you will see where people who opposed the flag were demeaned and insulted.”
Fuller continued: “This is a good community and the people were just fed up, and it’s a refreshing day, and I do plan on going to the parade if they are banned.”