homestead-veterans-day-parade-2009_web.jpgHOMESTEAD – A would-be showdown between supporters and opponents of the Confederate flag never materialized at the 48th annual Veterans Day Parade in Homestead.

Instead, a handful of Confederate battle flag wavers saw themselves relegated to the sidelines as spectators on Wednesday after parade organizers banned the controversial symbol.
“This is a great day, but also a sad one,” said Gary Kalof, commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 471, Private George Perry in Miami-Dade County. Kalof watched the parade from a sidewalk, wearing a vest that bore an emblem of the Confederate flag. 

“This is what the NAACP wanted, for us to be banned,’’ Kalof said. “They wanted to divide this community, which is what they always do.” 

Dressed in clothing with Confederate battle flag designs on them, four members of two different Confederate states organizations; the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Southern MC [a Confederate motorcycle club] stood in one location, waving their flags. 

Banned from lining up or marching in the parade procession, the men gathered in a single location along the parade route, occasionally shouting support for the United States and cheering passing military outfits.

Positioned at strategic points along the parade’s route, extra police officers were on hand, but there were no clashes or disruptions.

“The parade is great, and I don’t think anyone ever doubted it would be,” Southern MC member James Myers said. “We’re all Americans, and it’s just sad to see
a veterans organization banned from a parade in this country.” 

Other people who watched the parade had a different reaction. 

“This is absolutely great! It’s the most dignified Veterans Day parade I’ve seen in Homestead, and I’ve seen many,” Rosemary Fuller said. 
Pat Mellerson, a local business owner, agreed.

“It was a very nice family event, and we look forward to many more,” Mellerson said. 

Fuller and Mellerson expressed outrage at seeing the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) as participants in last year’s parade.  The day after last year’s parade, they began a successful effort to have the groups and their flags banned from future events. The Miami-Dade NAACP joined their efforts to ban the flag from the parade and from other publically sanctioned events.

The U.S. Department of Justice also got involved, undertaking an unsuccessful effort to mediate a resolution of the dispute.

In the process, opponents of the Confederate flag galvanized widespread support from a cross-section of the community in what evolved into a movement.  Five of the city’s seven council members were seeking reelection, and four of them lost in convincing fashion in last week’s municipal elections.

Many observers attribute their defeat, in part, to the manner in which they responded to the controversy. Others said the caustic tone they used at city council meetings when the issue came up for discussion led to a backlash and voter revolt.

Only Councilwoman Judy Waldman, who supported a ban on the controversial flag, was reelected, and she won in a landslide.  Former Mayor Lynda Bell and council members Nazy Sierra, Tim Nelson and Melvin McCormick ran as a slate, and were swept out of office in surprising losses.

At the parade on Wednesday, bands played patriotic themes to the cheering crowd as news helicopters hovered above.

Cameras flashed as the newly elected Mayor Steve Bateman and other winners of city council seats – the Rev. Jimmie L. Williams III, Stephen R. Shelley and Elvis R. Maldonado – waved from convertibles that navigated the parade route.

Waldman and Councilman Jon Burgess, who was not up for reelection, also joined them.  Councilwoman Wendy Lobos, who supported the unsuccessful reelection campaigns of Bell and the other losing incumbents, was the only elected city official who did not  participate in the parade.

“This is what we wanted. Respect for others’ feelings, and now we have it,” Mellerson said. 

More than 30 organizations participated in this year’s parade, including several school bands from Miami. None of the local Homestead schools participated.

Fuller, a regular attendee of the parades for more than 40 years, estimated that a quarter of the usual number of floats and organizations participated. She attributed this directly to the flag controversy. 

“Who wants to come to an event where all of this nonsense is going on?” Fuller asked over the blare of police sirens and marching bands. “There are some people who wanted to kill the parade, instead of telling the Confederates, ‘No way.’  But the people spoke, and this just great.” 

The Boy Scouts of America did not participate in the parade due to the flag controversy, which was not resolved in time for the organization to reconsider. But a local troop did lead the pledge of allegiance, and stood next to the grandstand during the parade. 

The controversy first began during last year’s parade when some black residents expressed outrage at seeing people dressed in Confederate soldiers’ uniforms, marching and displaying Confederate battle flags.

The Military Affairs Committee (MAC) of the Greater Homestead/Florida City Chamber of Commerce, a longtime organizer of the parade, first allowed, then banned the flag’s display.  The MAC later canceled the parade altogether. Later, the local Veterans of Foreign Wars group resurrected the parade, and eventually banned the Confederate flag, also.

Some people associate the Confederate flag with slavery, lynching and racism. Others view it as a symbol of southern heritage and pride.

Kalof, the SCV commander, said his organization is non-political and is engaged in numerous charitable events. He blamed the NAACP for the group’s ban from the parade.

“There were black Confederate soldiers who served honorably, but the NAACP wants to distort this history and turn it into a controversy,” he said. “The Sons of Confederate Veterans does all types of community work, for blacks, whites and every race. Each year, we restore and maintain [grave] headstones for black veterans in cemeteries in Dade County. This is just a shame, and you can thank the NAACP for it.”

Mellerson and Fuller said they accomplished their goal, but will continue monitoring the parade and other public events to make sure the ban is not lifted. 

“We made sure we stayed until the end of the parade, to make sure no one would try to pull anything, and this is what we will do throughout the year,” Mellerson said.

Photo by Elgin Jones/SFT Staff. Williams Patterson, left, Gary Kalof, center, and John Edge, right, watch the Veterans Day Parade in Homestead from the sidewalk.