NAACP Branch Readies for Confederate Flag Fight
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
By Joshua Rhett Miller
A flag fight is brewing in southern Florida.
Members of the Miami-Dade branch of the NAACP want the Confederate flag banned from the Homestead-Miami Motor Speedway, and they will meet Thursday to decide whether to boycott a NASCAR race slated there for November.
Debra Toomer, the branch's chairwoman of press and publicity, said a planning session has been scheduled to decide on a course of action regarding the display of the flag at the Nov. 20-22 event, as well as its presence at city-sponsored events like last year's Veterans Day parade.
"The concern is there," Toomer said of Confederate flags. She declined to comment further before the meeting.
But officials at NASCAR and the raceway say there's little they can do to prevent spectators from displaying or waving the Confederate flag.
NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston told FOXNews.com that NASCAR's "longstanding policy" prohibits displays of the Confederate flag on its cars, uniforms, licensed merchandise or in
"You're not going to see the flag or the symbol on any of those things," Poston said. "It's been that way for a very long time."
Poston said NASCAR has not received any communication from NAACP officials, and he stressed that NASCAR is "removed" from the controversy since it does not own or operate the Homestead-Miami Motor Speedway. "We happen to run an event there once a year," Poston continued. "But we'd be happy to speak to [NAACP officials] and explain the situation."
Homestead-Miami Motor Speedway President Curtis Gray said spectators are not permitted to wave large flags of any sort in the stands because of safety concerns, and to prevent them from obstructing the view.
He said Confederate flag items are not sold or officially displayed throughout the 65,000-seat raceway, but there's no official ban on spectators bringing miniature flags to the track, or wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the symbol. "... we don't regulate the lawful behavior of our fans or prohibit free speech and expression of our guests," Gray told FOXNews.com. "We can't tell people what to wear. Where do you start? Where does it end, as far as individual expression?"
Brandon Hensler, a spokesman for American Civil Liberties Union's Florida chapter, said bringing a Confederate flag to the race or any public event would be protected speech.
"If someone wants to show up with a shirt like that, there'd be no legal recourse for that," Hensler said. "Unless there's a specific threat, all speech is protected."
Gray declined to comment on the potential impact of a boycott or protest, since his office had not been contacted by NAACP officials in Florida.
Meanwhile, Rosemary Fuller, a member of the NAACP's Miami-Dade branch, said the civil rights group began drafting a letter last week to NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France to seek help in banning the controversial flag from the raceway. Citing a "troubling racial discord" in Homestead, Fuller told the South Florida Times that NAACP members are ready to protest and potentially boycott the season-ending race weekend if NASCAR officials fail to support the effort. NAACP members are also reportedly prepared to contact NASCAR's sponsors if the auto racing league objects.
"Right now, we are still in the planning stages," Fuller told the South Florida Times. "But if NASCAR decides to come here under these conditions, we will meet them at the racetrack."
Brian France, CEO and chairman of NASCAR, who has called the Confederate flag a "fading image," said he's unable to control what flags spectators choose to fly at its mammoth facilities.
"It's not a flag that I look at with anything favorable, that's for sure," France told CBS in 2005. "I can't tell people what flag to fly. I can tell you the flag we get behind — it's the American flag."
The potential flag flap at Homestead would not be the first racial discrimination protest at the 65,000-seat raceway. A group called the National Association for Minority Race Fans reportedly held a two-hour protest prior to a race in 2004. Seeking to provide a safe and equal environment for minority motor sports fans, members of the group offered an American flag to anyone who relinquished a Confederate flag, The Miami Herald reported.
Chuck McMichael, commander in chief of Sons of the Confederate Veterans, a Tennessee-based group that promotes Confederate heritage, said the flag fight stems from last year's Veterans Day parade when some attendees objected to Confederate Army uniforms and flags displayed by participants. As a result, some Greater Homestead/Florida City residents sought to have the organization banned from future events, McMichael said.
But any attempts to block Confederate flags at Homestead-Miami Motor Speedway will be met with "some action," McMichael said, including the possibility of counter protests.
"Any time somebody starts talking about that, of course there's cause for concern," McMichael told FOXNews.com. "The bottom line is I don't think they should ban [Confederate flags] because there's nothing wrong with them. It's just people showing pride in their heritage."