HOMESTEAD – Organizers have canceled this year’s Homestead Veterans Day Parade after several participants pulled out of the event due to ongoing controversy over the display of the Confederate battle flag, sources said on Tuesday.
“I think they took the easy way out. I was hoping they would do the morally correct thing, but nothing has been resolved,” said Pat Mellerson, the former vice chairperson of the Homestead/Florida City Human Relations Board. Homestead City Council members voted to dissolve the board after some of its members voiced opposition to the display of the flag at the parade.
“It’s regrettable they are doing this to the veterans,” Mellerson said.
The Military Affairs Committee (MAC) of the Greater Homestead/Florida City Chamber of Commerce, which organized the parade, voted recently to cancel the Nov. 11 event, according to Florida City Mayor Otis Wallace, whose city is a member of the chamber.
Wallace said MAC members explained to him that they made their decision to cancel this year’s parade not over the flag controversy directly, but rather because too many participants had withdrawn from the event because of the controversy.
“They told me there were too many organizations that had informed them they would not be participating, and they decided to cancel it,” Wallace explained.
The Miami-Dade NAACP, which had threatened an economic boycott of the chamber's member businesses if Confederate States groups were allowed in future parades, stressed that it did not seek an end to the parade, but rather to ban the display of the Confederate flag at the parade.
“The NAACP and the coalition of organizations and concerned Americans does not desire the cancellation of the parade but rather a parade that will truly honor U.S. veterans and not insult significant numbers of our citizens,’’ Bishop Victor Curry, president of the Miami-Dade NAACP, said in a statement sent by email on Tuesday to the media. “Confederate symbols are symbols of support for white supremacy, resistance to desegregation and fighting to maintain slavery. They are as offensive as the Nazi swastika.’’
Gregory E. Kalof, a Sons of Confederate Veterans camp commander in Miami-Dade County, said a MAC official also told him that the organization has canceled this year’s parade.
“We’re really disappointed. That parade was for the veterans. I’m a Vietnam veteran and I remember when we came home, we were spit upon, and this is no different,” Kalof said. “I hope the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) or another organization will do something. I intend to talk to them about it. The NAACP is the cause of this, and I’m disappointed in them, too.”
Efforts to reach chamber of commerce officials and Jeff Porter, the new chairman of the Military Affairs Committee, via phone calls and emails were not immediately successful.
The flag represents southern heritage and pride to some people. But to others, it is an offensive reminder of slavery, lynching and racial mistreatment.
Several organizations, including the American Red Cross, the Boys Scouts of America and local school officials reacted to the controversy by withdrawing from the parade.
It is unclear what impact the decision will have on future parades.
“The parade has been canceled. I heard the rumor and called the MAC [Military Affairs Committee] directly and they told me about it. There was no formal announcement or notification,” Wallace said.
Wallace and other elected officials in Florida City considered canceling the city’s membership in the chamber if parade organizers allowed the Confederate flag to be displayed.
“Basically, I have mixed emotions about it, but due to controversy over the Confederate flag, I do believe the event had become distorted, and but I think it’s a disservice to the veterans that the parade has been canceled,” Wallace said.
In response to the prospect of an economic boycott, MAC members initially made a motion to ban the flag from the parade at the group’s Sept. 3 meeting. But the first vote was tied among those in favor of the ban and those against it, and the motion failed, said Jeff Wander, who was then the committee's chairman, in a Sept. 16 news release.
The MAC conducted another vote via email from Sept. 11 to Sept. 15. In that vote, committee members approved a ban on the display of the Confederate battle flag, but not on Confederate States organizations or other, related flags.
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.
Some people, including Rosemary Fuller and Mellerson, 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.
Fuller is the former chairperson of the Homestead/Florida City Human Relations Board, which took up the issue. Fuller sought the help of the Miami-Dade County branch of the NAACP, and voted to seek a ban on the participation of Confederate States organizations’ participation in future parades.
That board was dissolved earlier this year. But since then, the issue has been at the center of much controversy.
The U.S. Department of Justice has been hosting mediation talks between the chamber, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the NAACP and community organizations in an effort to resolve the controversy, but no agreement has been reached.
Brad Brown, first vice president of the Miami-Dade branch of the NAACP, said he had heard the parade was canceled, but added that the NAACP has not been formally contacted by officials from the chamber or the Justice Department.
“If this is their way of resolving it, and they just can’t bring themselves to tell these people [Confederate States organizations] ‘no,’ then this is unacceptable,” Fuller said. “I’m still contacting organizations and asking them not to participate in any parade that allows the Confederate flag, no matter who organizes it.”