Homestead parade organizers seek mediation in Confederate flag flap
BY TANIA VALDEMORO
The Veterans’ Day parade, a 47-year-old tradition in Homestead, is in limbo.
On Thursday morning, officials from the Homestead/Florida City Chamber of Commerce’s military affairs committee unanimously voted to defer making any decisions on continuing or disbanding the popular event.
Instead, the executive board of the committee, known as the MAC, has accepted an offer of mediation by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service, said Jeffrey Wander, who chairs the committee.
The impartial federal group assists communities in resolving conflicts related to race, color and national origin.
”I think this is the best course of action,” Wander said. “To cancel a parade offhand would dishonor the veterans.”
The parade has grown controversial after the Sons of Confederate Veterans marched with the Confederate battle flag on Nov. 11. The Miami-Dade chapter of the NAACP, along with members of the former Homestead/Florida City Human Relations Board, have called for the flag to be banned.
The military affairs committee sponsors the annual parade, which draws thousands of people, including veterans, military personnel, school marching bands and residents to Homestead every year.
Last week, the board of directors of the chamber had unanimously recommended to disband the parade after a furor erupted over the Confederate flag’s entry into the parade. The flag is a controversial symbol in American history. To many, it symbolizes racism and slavery. Others believe it is an emblem of Southern pride.
The Miami-Dade chapter of the NAACP is campaigning to ban the flag from private and city-sponsored events in the future.
The NAACP plans to protest next Saturday. It has also threatened to boycott the chamber’s businesses and work to defeat City Council members in the November elections.
Debra Toomer, an NAACP spokeswoman, said she had no comment about the latest move. She did not answer questions on whether Justice officials had extended a mediation offer to her organization.
Gregory Kalof, the commander of the Miami camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said his group had not heard from the Department of Justice.
”If we’re invited, we’ll certainly go,” Kalof said. “We’re anxious to see what happens.”
The Confederate group said if the Veterans’ Day parade is not canceled, it intends to march with the battle flag and other Confederate flags this fall.
Kalof said it was understandable that Wander and his colleagues decided to postpone any decisions about having the parade.
”They are probably trying to make everyone happy,” he said.
Copyright 2009 Miami Herald Media Co.