NASCAR sponsors may face boycott over Confederate flag
BY ELGIN JONES
The Miami-Dade branch of the NAACP has set its sights on NASCAR, Homestead’s major national attraction, in its fight against the Confederate flag.
The civil rights organization will first reach out to officials with the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, seeking to enlist their help in efforts to ban the controversial symbol from city-sponsored events.
If that does not work, however, NAACP officials say they will consider a boycott and protest march at the NASCAR events slated for Nov. 20-22 at the Homestead-Miami Motor Speedway.
NAACP officials on Wednesday said they are drafting a letter to NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France, who has publicly spoken out against the Confederate flag in recent years.
If the civil rights organization does not get the racing league’s cooperation and support, officials there said they are prepared to begin contacting NASCAR’s sponsors, and to stage protests during the races.
“We intend to notify NASCAR about the troubling racial discord we have here in Homestead, and we would like their support,” said Rosemary Fuller, a longtime member of the Miami-Dade NAACP who chaired an advisory board that the city council disbanded after board members challenged the Confederate flag.
Fuller was one of more than 200 people who showed up at an NAACP meeting on Monday, May 18 at the Covenant Missionary Baptist Church in Florida City.
“Right now, we are still in the planning stages,’’ Fuller said, “but if NASCAR decides to come here under these conditions, we will meet them at the racetrack.”
Miami-Dade NAACP President Victor T. Curry presided over the meeting, and cautioned attendees about complacency.
“I believe I can speak as president. If we come up with an action plan tonight, I believe we can change some things here,” he said at the meeting. “Because if we don’t, it’s going to spread like these wildfires. These Confederates will be marching in the Martin Luther King Parade, and we’ll be marching right along.”
Fuller asked NAACP officials at the meeting to contact NASCAR about the situation.
A spokesperson at NASCAR’s corporate headquarters in Daytona Beach said the organization is checking to see if it has received any communication from the NAACP on the issue.
NASCAR can ill afford the negative publicity that would accompany an NAACP protest.
After years of growth, NASCAR has recently suffered an economic downturn.
Since the season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway last November, at least 600 employees have lost their jobs, according to The Miami Herald. Rival organizations are sharing chartered plane flights and hotel rooms, the newspaper reported, and drivers are trying to reduce airfare costs, as well.
At Monday’s NAACP meeting, members of the civil rights group also threatened a boycott of the Greater Homestead/Florida City Chamber of Commerce if their demands were not met. Many members of the chamber are businesses that are already suffering because of the recession.
Miami-Dade County District 8 Commissioner Katy Sorenson expressed concern at the NAACP meeting over the Chamber of Commerce’s decision not to bar Confederate groups from the parade.
“I just can’t believe that a hundred percent membership of that chamber of commerce would be sanctioning a blatantly racist group to be in a parade,” Sorenson told the audience.
“If that group wants to get its own permit to have its own parade down Main Street Homestead or anywhere, I think they are fully entitled to do that because that’s what this country is about.”
NAACP leaders also demanded the reinstatement of the Homestead/Florida City Human Relations Board (HRB), which addressed racial issues in both cities. The Homestead City Council dissolved the board last month after board members challenged the Confederate flag.
NAACP members also vowed to campaign against current city council members who are up for re-election this year.
The controversy flared up after black residents complained that they were surprised by Confederate States organizations that were allowed to participate in the November 2008 Veterans Day parade.
The Military Affairs Committee of the Greater Homestead/Florida City Chamber of Commerce organizes the parade, which receives financial support from the city. The chamber invited the Sons of Confederate Veterans to participate.
Group members wore Confederate Army uniforms and displayed the Confederate battle flag as they made their way along the parade route, down Krome Avenue. Some black residents who attended the parade said they were offended, and sought to have the organizations and their memorabilia barred from future events.
Supporters of the Confederate flag say it is a symbol of southern pride. Opponents, including many members of the black community, say it is a reminder of slavery, lynching and racial intolerance.
In April, the NAACP joined the fray by petitioning the Miami-Dade County School District to keep students and school bands out of events where the Confederate flag is displayed.
A week later, led by Homestead Mayor Lynda Bell, all seven members of the Homestead City Council voted on April 20 to shut down the Human Relations Board.
Bell said the HRB was not taking on matters that are important to her city’s residents, a majority of whom are Hispanic. Board members, however, said they have taken on Hispanic issues, and that they believe the city council was trying to block their efforts against the display of the Confederate flag at taxpayer-funded events.
The school district has yet to respond to the NAACP’s request, but that has not stopped the controversy from escalating, most recently at Monday’s NAACP meeting.
Not everyone believes the NAACP’s efforts will be effective.
“The threat of a boycott is one that is frequently employed by the NAACP when it is displeased about something, which is most of the time,” said Roger McCredie, executive director of the Southern Legal Resource Center, an organization based in Black Mountain, N.C. that advocates for southern heritage causes.
“Silly as it is, such a threat often serves to intimidate local governmental bodies and from a practical standpoint there is nothing that can be done to stop them from attempting to enact such a boycott,’’ McCredie continued. “What they don’t want you to know, however, is that most people with any sense see such a tactic as exactly what it is – a self-serving political device with much more bark than bite.”
Some Confederate flag supporters say that NASCAR’s stance against the flag has already alienated them, thereby decreasing the impact of a boycott.
“I don’t think the boycott is going to have much impact at all, because people who go to races aren’t interested in the positions of any political group,” said Chuck McMichael of Blanchard, La., who is commander-in-chief of the national Sons of Confederate Veterans. “NASCAR is no friend of the Confederacy anyway, but by them denying us in the first place is one of the reasons their attendance is down.”
“I don’t think an organization like NASCAR, that has so many major sponsors, should bring people here who could be subjected to this type of racism,” she said.
The Homestead-Miami Speedway also has seen racial discrimination protests in the past. In 2004, an organization called the National Association for Minority Race Fans led a small group of protesters near the raceway’s entrance for about two hours before a race, according to The Miami Herald.
The goal of the protest was the group’s mission statement of promoting a safe environment at racetracks for minority fans, and to promote racial diversity among NASCAR competitors and employees.
Among the demonstrations that year was an offer to exchange an American flag to any fan who would turn in a Confederate flag to the group, according to The Herald.
This year, NASCAR has five main racing series, with three of them being national, along with several regional circuits.
The Sprint Cup, the Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck Series are its main draws, and are the most popular. All three will hold their league championship races in Homestead.
The championship races will take place starting just one week after Veterans Day. Confederate States groups say they will again march in the Veterans Day parades, and the NAACP plans to lead protest marches there.
Yet France, NASCAR’s CEO, in recent years has tried to shed the organization’s “good ole boy’’ image and reach out to minorities.
He has gone on record in previous interviews stating that neither he nor NASCAR supports the Confederate flag.
In 2005, France gave his take on the Confederate flag to CBS’ “60 Minutes,’’ where he said, “I think it’s a fading image…these are massive facilities. And I can’t tell people what flag to fly. I can tell you the flag we get behind. It’s the American flag.”
He also told “60 Minutes’’ that he would love to tell fans not to fly the Confederate flag if he could: “It’s not a flag I look at with anything favorable. That’s for sure.”