BY TANIA VALDEMORO
Organizers will go ahead with the popular Veterans' Day parade in Homestead despite the controversy over a group marching for the first time with the Confederate battle flag last November.
They decided at a meeting Thursday that they could not ban the flag as the Miami-Dade chapter of the NAACP had demanded.
The flag is a divisive symbol that reflects Southern heritage to some but deep racial wounds to others.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans marched in the 47-year-old Homestead parade with the rebel flag last November after a Veterans' Day parade in Palm Beach County had been canceled.
That sparked an outcry by the Miami-Dade chapter of the NAACP and others.
Jeffrey Wander, chairman of the military affairs committee of the Homestead/Florida City Chamber of Commerce that plans the parade, said Thursday that his group is hoping controversy will be avoided by the Confederate group keeping the flag away.
``We are going to run the parade the way we've been running it,'' Wander said.
``We can't take a position on this. But we hope the Sons of Confederate Veterans don't bring the battle flag.''
Tensions over the flag boiled over in May, when the Miami-Dade chapter of the NAACP threatened to boycott chamber businesses and recruit candidates to run against the Homestead mayor and council members this fall.
NAACP officials did not return calls Thursday for comment.
While Homestead had no role in organizing the parade and had no say in who participated, Mayor Lynda Bell and the council angered the black community in April when they disbanded the Homestead/Florida City Human Relations Board. The advisory group had recommended banning the flag.
Board member terms had expired and city leaders said they changed the board because they had a different vision for it, not because of the flag controversy. Bell could not be reached for comment Thursday.
In June, the military affairs committee was considering canceling the parade altogether, but reconsidered. The military community and leadership around Homestead told organizers they wanted to see the parade take place, Wander said.
Thursday's decision was welcomed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
``We are very happy about the outcome,'' said Gregory Kalof, commander of the Miami camp. He said the group would participate -- and bring the rebel flag.
``It's hard to march in a parade without our flag. It's like going to a rodeo without a horse,'' he said.
For those who wanted to bar the flag, the decision represented a big step backward. It also signaled that mediation with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Miami-Dade Community Relations Board may have come to an end.
``This is a very sad day for our community,'' said Pat Mellerson, former vice chair of the Homestead/Florida City Human Relations Board and a business owner in Homestead. ``We just don't need to have any conflict.''
The Rev. Jimmie Williams, vice president of PULSE, a civil rights group, said protests, boycotts and election changes were back on the table now.
``Everything we worked so hard for has been in vain,'' he said.