HOMESTEAD — Civil rights groups on Thursday put city and business leaders here on a 30-day notice that unless they meet a list of demands – including a ban on the display of the Confederate flag at taxpayer-funded events – they will be subjected to protests and boycotts.
More than 100 people converged on the steps of Homestead City Hall for a press conference organized by clerical, civil rights and community groups who submitted the list of demands.
“We are ready to talk with the city of Homestead and the Homestead Chamber of Commerce concerning our action items. And our issues are with them, and not with the Sons of the Confederacy,” said Bishop Victor T. Curry, president of the Miami-Dade branch of the NAACP. “If the Sons of the Confederacy want to have their own parade, we are not trying to stifle freedom of speech or freedom of expression. We just don’t want to see racism walking down the streets of Homestead, being funded by the taxpayers.”
Curry warned business leaders that if their demands are not met by the 30-day deadline, the controversy would escalate to another level.
“We want the mayor and the council, and the chamber, to do the right thing. We hope that we could start this with a positive dialogue. But we’re also ready to move from dialogue to demonstration,” Curry said.
“We are also prepared to say to the businesses that support the chamber, that if you want to offend the people of this great county and community, then we will seek other places to spend our dollars,’’ Curry said. “We will not pay you to offend us.”
At the press conference, the coalition of organizations issued a six-point ultimatum and a 30-day deadline for those conditions to be met. If the demands are not met, the city could face protests and economic boycotts of local businesses.
The list of demands includes:
• An apology from Mayor Lynda Bell and city officials over their handling of the issue
• A reversal of the city council’s vote to dissolve the advisory Homestead/Florida City Human Relations Board, which initiated the challenge to the Confederate flag
• A meeting between city officials and coalition members to discuss other concerns
• A meeting between Chamber of Commerce representatives and the coalition to discuss their concerns
• The city’s adoption of the guidelines for parades that the Human Relations Board established.
• The Chamber of Commerce’s restriction of all flags in its events to official local, state and/or national flags.
None of the city council or chamber officials, including Mayor Lynda Bell, attended Thursday’s press conference, and none could be reached for comment about the demands, or the 30-day time limit.
“In light of the comments that Mayor Lynda Bell is making about us, their lack of response really doesn’t surprise me,” said Rosemary Fuller, the former chairwoman of the now dissolved Human Relations Board.
“I think Mayor Lynda Bell has not demonstrated any leadership in how she has handled this issue and for her to criticize those of us who are opposed to the Confederate flag is what has caused this to go on for the last seven months,’’ Fuller said. “The city needs to designate someone else as the point person on this issue.”
Curry said Bell canceled a meeting that was scheduled to take place between the coalition and city officials immediately after the press conference. He said she canceled because she objected to having former members of the Human Relations Board participate in the meeting.
“I really think it’s unfortunate that she [Mayor Lynda Bell] doesn’t have the foresight to understand that she needs to work with Rosemary and myself, and it’s a disservice to the citizens of Homestead,” said Pat Mellerson, a founding member of the Human Relations Board.
“I think the council should try to work with us, and meet the demands,’’ she said. “I think if the mayor does not want to have this resolved, someone else should take the lead.’’
The controversy dates back to the 2008 Veterans Day Parade in the city, which was organized by the Greater Homestead/Florida City Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber allows the Sons of Confederate Veterans to march and display the Confederate battle flag in the procession.
Opponents of the Confederate flag say it is a reminder of the violence and oppression of slavery. Supporters insist it is a symbol of their southern heritage and pride.
Homestead officials say they had no say in the city’s Veterans Day parade because it was organized by the chamber’s Military Affairs Committee, and the city only provided in-kind and logistical support. Therefore, they said, the city has no say in who is allowed to participate in the event.
Chamber of Commerce officials say it is a matter of freedom of speech, and they would not ban the groups from marching in future parades.
H.K. Edgerton is a 61-year-old African American and former president of the Asheville, North Carolina branch of the NAACP.
He is also the founder and president of Southern Heritage 411, a pro-Confederate States organization whose intended purpose is to educate black people about their role in the Confederate Army and civil war.
“If they are successful in banning the flag, we will surely file a lawsuit to stop it,” Edgerton said when he was informed of the press conference.
He also sits on the board of the pro-Confederacy, Southern Legal Resource Center in Black Mountain, North Carolina, which is near Asheville.
“I think it’s absurd,’’ he said. “It sends the wrong kind of message, especially when you’re talking about fulfilling Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of bringing together the sons of former slaves and slave owners. What the NAACP is doing, once again, is trying to use the Confederate flag to solicit donations and increase its coffers, with the same old tactic of trying to divide Americans, but it will fail again.”
Edgerton said he is not sure if his lifetime membership in the civil rights organization remains intact, but he has not been active since deciding not to run for reelection in 1988.
Photo by Elgin Jones/SFT Staff. Bishop Victor T. Curry