HOMESTEAD – Controversy over the display of the Confederate flag has prompted organizers of the city’s annual Veterans Day parade – a 47-year tradition – to consider canceling the event.
“At their monthly meeting on May 21, the Board of Directors of the Greater Homestead/Florida City Chamber of Commerce voted to recommend that its Military Affairs Committee discontinue their 47-year tradition of producing Miami-Dade County’s oldest and largest Veterans Day parade,” said Mary Finlan, the chamber’s executive director, in an email to the South Florida Times on Friday night.
Chamber officials say the escalating controversy has tarnished the parade’s intended purpose. The recommendation will go to the Military Affairs Committee, which will make the final decision, but no specific date has been set yet.
“Members of the board stated that the mission of the parade has been greatly diminisheddue to the controversy concerning parade participants, causing the focus to shift away from the military men and women it was intended to honor,” Finlan said in her statement.
With donations from businesses and in-kind support such as police, clean-up and traffic control from the city, the Chamber of Commerce organizes the parade. The decision means the highly attended annual parade in the city, where an Air Force base and other military installations are located, could be no more.
The controversy surrounds a decision by the chamber’s Military Affairs Committee to allow the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other Confederate States organizations to march, and display the Confederate battle flag during the 2008 Veterans Day parade.
Supporters of the Confederate flag say it is a symbol of southern pride. Opponents say it is a reminder of slavery, lynching and racial intolerance.
The move to allow Confederate States organizations into the parade sparked outrage from black parade goers who said they were stunned and offended by the groups and their flags. Residents then urged city officials to bar the groups from future taxpayer-funded events. City officials refused, saying they have no role in organizing the parade, and only provide in-kind support.
A South Florida Times review, however, found that five of the seven city council members actually sit on the chamber’s Military Affairs Committee. Chamber officials insist they were not involved in the parade decision making.
“You have to pick your battles, and I don’t think ending a Veterans Day parade and excluding groups that honor veterans is a wise choice,” said Chuck McMichael, commander-in-chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, from his Blanchard, La. home. “All the Sons of Confederate Veterans are trying to do is honor American soldiers who fought for their principles.”
Officials with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which is fighting for a ban on the controversial flag in city-sanctioned events, are also criticizing the decision to end the parade.
“This is amazing. They are sticking their heads in the sand, and it does nothing to address the issue,” said Brad Brown, first vice president of the Miami-Dade County branch of the NAACP.
Members of the Homestead/Florida City Human Relations Board, which addressed racial issues in both cities, also complained about the flag. City council members voted unanimously to dissolve the Human Relations Board a week after its members joined forces with the NAACP in April.
The NAACP have asked the Miami-Dade County School District to keep students and school bands out of the event if the Confederacy is allowed participate. The school board has yet to respond.
Rosemary Fuller is the former chairperson of the disbanded Human Relations Board. She said of the move to cancel the Veterans Day parade, “Well if that’s their way of resolving the problem, so be it. But it sends a message that they would rather support those controversial groups instead of addressing the issue.’’
The recommendation to end the parade comes just days after the NAACP announced plans for a protest march, and an NAACP decision to target Homestead’s city council members for defeat in the upcoming municipal elections.
NAACP members are also considering an economic boycott of Chamber of Commerce member businesses, as well as the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), which holds championship races for the league’s top three series in Homestead during the month of November.
Those championship races are scheduled to start taking place one week after Veterans Day, and two weeks after the city’s municipal elections. NASCAR already bans Confederacy memorabilia and symbols, including the flag, according to a spokesman.
“Our policy is that the flag and its symbol is prohibited on anything we control. You won’t find it on cars, uniforms, in our promotions, or any of our marketing materials,” said Ramsey Poston, NASCAR’s managing director of corporate communications. “We have had this policy in place for nearly twenty years. Obviously, it’s a divisive symbol and we have been very stout about enforcing the policy.”
Poston said the organization has little control over fans who might bring Confederate flags to race tracks – which NASCAR does not own – or wear the flags on their personal clothing. But he said NASCAR is eager to discuss the controversy with the NAACP.
“We have not heard from them, and obviously we will be happy to speak with them, but while NASCAR races at the Homestead track, we don’t own it, or any other track, and are quite a bit removed from the situation,” Poston explained.
Fuller said she believes the Veterans Day parade can still go forward, even if it has to be organized by citizens and other organizations.
“The parade is to honor those who served this country, not those who fought against it, and they are not the only one that can put on a parade,” she said. “No one is more of a patriot than I am, but we will not tolerate the Confederate flag flying over us again.”