NAACP, civil rights groups seek to ban Confederate flag in Homestead
By ELGIN JONES
South Florida Times
HOMESTEAD -- The NAACP and other civil rights groups have joined black Homestead residents in seeking to ban the Confederate flag and groups that support it from city-sanctioned festivities.
''That flag is flown to strike fear in people, and it's no different than a swastika being displayed in front of Jews,'' said Brad Brown, vice president of the Miami-Dade NAACP.
The issue came to a head on Nov. 11 during the 2008 Homestead/Florida City Chamber of Commerce parade, when organizers allowed Confederate army organizations to participate in Veterans Day ceremonies and display Confederate flags.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) marched in the parade. Some rode atop vehicles emblazoned with Confederate states' banners; others walked with Confederate battle flags.
The demonstration outraged black residents.
City officials said they did not organize the parade. Parade organizers, who are linked to the local chamber of commerce, defended their right to display the flag.
''I've been going to the Veterans Day parades here for nearly 40 years, and for the first time to see Confederate Army soldiers marching among black people was shocking,'' said Rosemary Fuller, a lifelong Homestead resident who chairs the city's Human Relations Board.
She is also a member of the Miami-Dade County Equal Opportunity Board.
''It's insulting, disrespectful and a slap in the face,'' she said.
''I find it curious how they decided to allow this right after the country elected its first African-American president,'' Brown said. ``We will not let this die. We plan to take other actions, which I'm not prepared to disclose at this time.''
Jerome Williams, who is black, is chairman of the Chamber of Commerce. He said the organization's Military Affairs Committee made the decision to have the Sons of Confederate Veterans in the parade.
''They [the Military Affairs Committee] are members of the chamber, but they have a separate organizational structure and funding source,'' Williams explained. ``We at the chamber do not organize the parade. It was their decision, and the committee does not answer to us.''
Williams said he is aware of the controversies surrounding the flag, and he questions why they are only now being raised in Homestead.
''I think the Confederate soldiers have always been in the parade. I've seen them there,'' he said. ``So, why is it an issue this time? I understand the debate, but I've done my own research and realize there were many black people in the Confederacy.''
Jeffrey Wander is the chairman of the Chamber of Commerce's Military Affairs Committee, which organized the parade. He could not be reached about the controversy, but in a letter to the city's Human Relations Board that Fuller chairs, he defended the decision to include Confederate organizations.
''The MAC [Military Affairs Committee] has been inclusive and has not discriminated nor censored any participants in the parade,'' Wander wrote in a March 6 letter. ``The Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) were praised for their community work by Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The Confederate Battle Flag has been usurped as a negative symbol by disreputable groups.''
Indeed, the Ku Klux Klan and other racist hate groups have incorporated the Confederate Battle Flag into their message.
Wander did not respond to messages left at the Chamber of Commerce about his letter, but it has drawn support from the SCV.