HOMESTEAD — In a huge victory for civil rights advocates, the Confederate battle flag was banned this week from the 2009 Veterans Day parade in Homestead.
The move followed mounting pressure from several groups, including the American Red Cross and the Boy Scouts of America, which threatened to withdraw their participation in the parade. Pressure also came from the Miami-Dade NAACP, which threatened a protest and boycott of businesses in the city if the flag were displayed in the parade again this year.
The Military Affairs Committee (MAC) of the Greater Homestead/Florida City Chamber of Commerce, which has run the parade for the last 47 years, voted in recent days to ban the flag from the Nov. 11, 2009 Veterans Day parade.
The MAC initially made a motion to ban the flag from the parade at its Sept. 3 meeting. But the vote was tied among those in favor of the ban and those against it, and the motion failed, said Jeff Wander, the committee's chairman, in a Sept. 16 news release.
Within the last several days, the MAC held another vote via email, and this time the motion carried, Wander explained.
"Due to the importance of this issue and the future of the largest Veterans Day Parade in South Florida, I felt that the motion should be presented to the entire membership of the MAC," Wander said in the release. "Many members did not attend the September 3rd meeting. The motion was presented to the membership by email and they had five days to respond. The motion carried. The Confederate Battle Flag is prohibited in the MAC Veterans Day Parade."
Wander said the MAC conducted the vote via email from Sept. 11 to Sept. 15. He would not release the names of those who voted for and against the ban.
"We are not releasing that information, but I will say there was very, very little opposition to banning the battle flag," he told the South Florida Times on Wednesday.
The controversy first began after the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) marched in Homestead's 2008 Veterans Day parade, and displayed Confederate battle flags there.
The flag represents southern heritage and pride to some people. But to others, it is an offensive reminder of slavery and racial mistreatment.
Some people who attended last year's parade said they were offended by seeing people in full Confederate Army regalia, waving the battle flags while making their way through the parade route.
Since that time, the issue has been at the center of much controversy.
The Miami-Dade County branch of the NAACP held a protest rally, and threatened an economic boycott of the chamber's member businesses if Confederate States groups were not barred from this year's parade.
The neighboring municipality of Florida City has considered withdrawing its membership in the chamber because of the Confederate States group's participation, and the U.S. Department of Justice has been hosting mediation talks between the chamber, the SCV, the NAACP and community organizations in an effort to resolve the controversy.
Jim Pierce, who handles many of the tasks involved in organizing the parade for the MAC, said this latest vote by the MAC executive board came after some organizations, including the Boy Scouts of America, local schools, and the American Red Cross of Greater Miami & the Keys withdrew their support and participation due to the controversy.
"The American Red Cross Greater Miami & the Keys decided not to participate in this year's Homestead Veteran's Day parade as long as the Confederate flag was being flown in the parade," Chrystian Tejedor, the organization's Public Affairs Officer, said in an email to the newspaper.
It was unclear whether the Red Cross would now participate in the parade since the Confederate battle flag has been banned.
"To many people, the Confederate flag represents a period in our nation's history where all people were not treated equally and that goes against several of the guiding principles of the American Red Cross, namely our principles of Humanity, Impartiality, Neutrality, Unity and Universality," Tejedor said.
Florida City Mayor Otis Wallace said he had not been informed of the MAC's vote, and therefore could not comment on whether it would alter the possibility that his city will sever ties with the chamber.
The Miami-Dade County branch of the NAACP and other community groups are scheduled to hold a conference call tonight to ponder the ban, but at this point there is opposition to any involvement by Confederate States organizations and any flags they may display.
"This is the same thing we rejected back in February," said Rosemary Fuller, former chairperson of the now-dissolved Homestead/Florida City Human Relations Board. The board was the first to raise concerns about the Confederate flags that were displayed in the 2008 Veterans Day parade.
"Whether it's this flag, or that flag, or the uniforms, it's the same thing to us."