Confederate flag in Homestead parade sparks dispute
Black leaders are mobilizing to pressure city and business leaders to stop the flag from appearing in future events. Others say flag represents their Southern heritage.
It started during a day of patriotism. The Sons of Confederate Veterans waved the Confederate battle flag as they marched for the first time in a Veteran's Day parade in Homestead last November. Six months later, the Miami-Dade chapter of the NAACP has launched a multi-pronged campaign to prevent future public displays of the flag. Black leaders met Monday night at the Covenant Missionary Baptist Church in Florida City to strategize over the simmering dispute about the flag's appearance at a parade sponsored by the Homestead/Florida City Chamber of Commerce. Among the options they're considering: Diplomacy, protest, a possible boycott of chamber businesses and recruiting candidates to run against the Homestead mayor and council members in the November elections.
Since the Civil War, the Confederate battle flag has been a controversial symbol in American history. For some, it represents their Southern heritage and evokes a measure of pride. For others, it serves as a reminder of slavery and racism. ''Initially, we all thought this was a matter of stupidity and all it would take would be to educate people that the flag is a symbol of terrorism,'' said Bradford Brown, first vice president of the local chapter of the NAACP. ''Instead, it dragged on. And the city of Homestead went one step further and decided to dissolve their part of the Human Relations Board,'' he said.
Last month, Homestead Mayor Lynda Bell and the city council disbanded the Homestead/Florida City Human Relations Board, which was created in 2002 by the city's first black mayor, Roscoe Warren.The advisory board took up the issue of the flag display for six months, but did not come to a resolution with the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the chamber. Bell said the changes to the human relations board, which she suggested, stem from a desire to make it more reflective of Hispanics, who make up about 60 percent of Homestead's population. The city council will consider an ordinance governing the new Community Relations Board next month and the mayor will appoint new board members, subject to council approval.
The mayor also said the chamber of commerce's Military Affairs Committee -- not the city -- sponsored the Veteran's Day parade. City spokeswoman Lillian Delgado said Homestead contributed $2,000 of in-kind services for the parade, as it does with other events. Homestead did not have knowledge or control of what organizations participated in the parade, Delgado said.Jeffrey Wander, chair of the chamber's Military Affairs Committee, said he didn't know if the Sons of Confederate Veterans would march again but the chamber could not ban them from participating in this November's parade. He said they have the right to express themselves under the First Amendment. He also feared a lawsuit if restrictions were imposed.''I wish people would ignore it. It would probably go away,'' Wander said.
Supporters of the Confederate flag have written to The Miami Herald. ''I don't understand why, in 2008 as we are all taught to be tolerant, people cannot be tolerant of me as a white Southern man and my right to fly a Confederate flag,'' said David ''Chili'' Baglin of Cutler Bay. ``The Confederate flag is not a symbol of racism to me. It is only a symbol of my Southern heritage that I am proud of.''
The NAACP and black residents were not swayed Monday night. They excoriated Bell and council members, saying the council condoned the rare public display of the flag.''We're calling a press conference on June 11 at Homestead City Hall,'' Bishop Victor Curry, president of the Miami-Dade NAACP chapter, told an audience of nearly 200 people.``The following Saturday, we march. All that we heard today needs to be shared with the community.''Former Homestead Mayor Warren and Miami-Dade County Commission Katy Sorenson pledged to use a softer approach -- diplomacy behind the scenes -- to work with Bell and the council to resolve the dispute.''I'm confident we will work it out,'' said Warren, Homestead's first black mayor. ``You don't want to elevate this [dispute] to the state and national level.''
Meanwhile, Curry hinted at a possible boycott of chamber businesses at a time when most industries have been hit by the recession.He also set his sights on the November elections. Curry pledged the NAACP would register new voters and strongly urge them to vote against Bell or any other council member if they did not ban the flag.Councilman Melvyn McCormick, the only black member of the council, might be one of the vulnerable council members. He voted to disband the Human Relations Board, which his opponent, the Rev. Jimmie Williams, pointed out.''Someone is going to be a casualty,'' Curry said.