HOMESTEAD — The Miami-Dade NAACP has asked the school district to bar students from participating in events where Confederate flags and uniforms are displayed.
Brad Brown, the NAACP’s vice president, and Rosemary Fuller, chairperson of the Homestead/Florida City Human Relations Board, met with Miami-Dade Deputy School Superintendent Freddie Woodson on Tuesday, April 14 to request the ban.
Woodson could not be reached for comment about the meeting, and did not return calls about the possible ban, but Fuller expressed optimism.
“He [Woodson] was very concerned and said he is going to try to resolve it,” said Fuller, who said she believes there will likely be counter protests during next year’s Veterans Day parade if Confederate States organizations are allowed to participate, as they did last year.
She said the situation could lead to unrest.
“We’re bringing this to their attention because if these kids go out there, and things get out of hand, we don’t want to see anyone of them harmed because this is a safety issue, as well as one involving civil rights,” she said.
The issue arose late last year after the Homestead/Florida City Chamber of Commerce decided to allow the Sons of Confederate Veterans to participate in the 2008 Veterans Day parade the chamber organized on Nov. 11 in Homestead.
Black parade attendees said they were surprised by the display of the Confederate battle flags, and were caught off guard
at seeing people dressed in Confederate Army uniforms marching during the event.
African Americans around the country say the Confederate flag is a reminder of slavery in the old South. Supporters of the flag say it is an expression of southern pride.
Homestead city officials said they only provide logistical and in-kind support for the Veterans Day event, and therefore have no say in which groups are allowed. Chamber of Commerce officials insist that this is a matter of free speech, and that they have no intention of banning
Confederate States organizations from future parades.
“I have not heard about any requests to the school district regarding the parade. But, I will say that the basic issue here is still legality and civil rights,” wrote Mary Finlan, executive director of the Greater Homestead/Florida City Chamber of Commerce in an email sent to the newspaper. “For example, the city and the chamber have received more complaints (including those from some members of the HRB) about the perceived offensive nature of the dances that were performed by the students who accompanied some of our public middle school and high school bands in the parade, than complaints of any other nature.”
The NAACP is requesting full prohibition on public schools and student participation in events that allow Confederate States groups or their flags. The civil rights organization also plans to ask other parade participants not to take part in the parade if there is Confederate paraphernalia in it.
“What we plan to do is to look at the various entities that participated in the parade, and talk to them about not being involved anymore if the Confederate Flag is allowed, and it begins with the school district, because you can’t have a parade if you don’t have bands,” said Brown of the NAACP.
“We are asking the school district to determine if there is a current policy in place, and if so, enforce it,” Brown said. “If not, then they should create one.”
Another organization is gearing up to defend the display of Confederate paraphernalia.
The Southern Legal Resource Center (SLRC), based in Black Mountain, North Carolina, offers support and legal resources to organizations and individuals advocating southern heritage, including issues surrounding the Confederacy.
The SLRC’s Web site states, “This web site provides vital information for those concerned with preserving Southern Heritage, from the merely interested, to those under attack by South bashers, to the attorneys fighting to stop these abuses.”
The organization says it is monitoring the situation in Homestead.
“If they are talking about banning the flag, then that’s a matter of free speech, and we would jump on that with both feet,” said Kirk D. Lyons, SLRC’s chief trial counsel.
“The thing is, participating in a parade is a privilege, not a right, and my thinking is the only one who would be harmed by any banning the schools would be the students,” Lyons said.
In an email to the newspaper, Jeff Wander, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce’s Military Affairs Committee (MAC), expressed a similar view.
“If what you say is true about the School Board comes to pass, it would be a shame to dishonor our military veterans,’’ Wander wrote.
“Although it wasn't mentioned in the letter, but in every venue where censorship of the Confederate Battle Flag was tried, courts opposed that censorship as a violation of the First Amendment while remembering that Confederate veterans were pardoned by President Eisenhower in 1958.”
He continued, “The Sons of Confederate Veterans will legally protect the symbols of their heritage. Again, it would be a shame, after 47 years, to discontinue the Homestead MAC's Veterans Day Parade.”
The Miami-Dade school district has dealt with the issue of Confederate flags before now. In 1967, black students who had been transferred to South Dade High School as part of desegregation found themselves in the middle of a civil rights struggle. The school mascot was a Confederate Army soldier whose nickname was the Rebels. The school’s theme song was “Dixie,” and the marching band members wore Confederate Army uniforms.
The Confederate battle flag hung from the school pole and, according to former students such as current Florida City Mayor Otis T. Wallace, it was not uncommon to see full-sized black figures hanging by the neck in effigy, around school grounds.
“At football games, the team would run through paper banners that had murals of blacks being hung painted on them,” Wallace recalled. “I was the one who made the actual presentation to the school board at the time, and they didn’t seem to understand why it bothered us until I equated the Confederacy to the Nazis. Then they understood.”
After black parents and students protested to district officials and appealed to federal authorities to intervene, a compromise was reached where the black students were allowed to transfer to a nearby, all-black school. In 1970, the school changed its name to the Buccaneers, took down the Confederate Flag, and abandoned Dixie as its theme song.
“My view remains the same today,’’ Wallace said. “The school district has already dealt with this, and when I think of Veterans Day, I think of people who fought for the United States, not those who turned on, and fought against it.”
Brown said he expects quick response from district officials about the ban.
“There is no timetable, but this is not new. While the district does it research, we will be talking to those businesses that are members of the [Homestead/Florida City] Chamber of Commerce,” he said.
Photo by Elgin Jones/SFT Staff. Rosemary Fuller