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. But the fight is not over, supporters of Confederate States organizations say.
"We're very disappointed. That's like having the Veterans Day parade without the stars and stripes. These Confederate soldiers are classified by Congress as American veterans, no differently than any other veterans," said Gregory Kalof, commander of Miami-Dade County Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) Camp 471.
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.
Brad Brown, first vice president of the Miami-Dade NAACP, had a mixed reaction to the ban.
First, he said, "I would commend the people who voted against the flag in the email vote. We appreciate them for voting that way.''
But he also said the NAACP has received no direct notification of the plans for the parade. The NAACP and the city's chamber of commerce entered into mediation with the U.S. Department of Justice to resolve the matter, he said, and any changes to plans for Confederate flag displays were supposed to come through that mediation.
"As of late yesterday afternoon, they had not yet contacted the Department of Justice, which was the agreement,'' Brown said on Thursday, adding that it is unclear whether Confederate States organizations will include Confederate uniforms or other paraphernalia in the parade. "We've seen nothing but the newspapers. Until we can sit down and see exactly what they've done and how it's going to be implemented, everything is still on the table. As of now, we're still asking people not to march with any representation of the Confederacy in the parade.''
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.
Others who support southern heritage initiatives are expressing displeasure with the decision.
"We've seen it before, and it's pandemic," said Roger McCredie, executive director of the Southern Legal Resource Center, based in Black Mountain, North Carolina.
The center advocates for southern heritage causes.
"I think that the consensus here has been waiting and seeing what would come out of this, and we've not been contacted by anyone just yet," McCredie said when asked if legal action is being considered.
Kalof, of the Miami-Dade Sons of Confederate Veterans, said he has not sought any legal help.
"It's always an option, but we'd hate to do that because we have a good relationship with them [the Chamber]. I'm not sure we would go that route," Kalof said.
H.K. Edgerton, 61, of Black Mountain, N.C., is African-American. He is the former president of the Asheville, N.C. branch of the NAACP. He also supports Confederate States causes.
"This is one of the most disgraceful and cowardly acts for the chamber to buckle under to them," Edgerton said.
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 along 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 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 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.
"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.
Rosemary Fuller, former chairperson of the now-dissolved Homestead/Florida City Human Relations Board, was among the first to raise concerns about the flag.
She said she does not want to see the Confederacy represented at all in this year's parade: "Whether it's this flag, or that flag, or the uniforms, it's the same thing to us."