NAACP makes new demands in Homestead flag controversy


The local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on Thursday issued a new set of demands to Homestead’s mayor and City Council to resolve the dispute over the one-time display of the Confederate battle flag at a Veterans’ Day parade.

Meanwhile, the civil rights group called off a demonstration that was supposed to take place Saturday in Homestead.

Since November, disagreements about the Confederate battle flag’s presence in Homestead have roiled the community. For some, the flag is a symbol of pride and Southern heritage. For others, it represents racism and slavery.

The dispute has escalated since April, when Mayor Lynda Bell and her colleagues disbanded the Homestead/Florida City Human Relations Board, which had been meeting with the NAACP, the military affairs committee of the Homestead/Florida City Chamber of Commerce and the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

The Human Relations Board had recommended not to display the Confederate battle flag, although no resolution among the parties was reached before the board was dissolved.

In disbanding the board, Bell said she wanted to create a new one to deal only with Homestead issues. Terms of several board members had expired and Bell said she wanted to make a new board more reflective of the city’s growing Hispanic population.

But the mayor’s critics, such as former board chairwoman Rosemary Fuller said, “the Confederate flag was the final straw that broke the camel’s back for this board.”

The chamber’s military affairs sponsors the Veterans’ Day Parade, a 47-year-old tradition.

Jeffrey Wander, the committee chair, has said his group cannot ban the Sons of Confederate Veterans from marching in the parade, noting their right to free speech under the First Amendment.

Homestead, which provides in-kind support to the parade, does not sponsor the event or has a say in who marches in it, said city spokeswoman Lillian Delgado.

But those reasons did not deter the NAACP from issuing its latest appeals to the public, the City Council and the Chamber of Commerce.

Flanked by 40 pastors, local activists and NAACP members, Bishop Victor Curry, president of the Miami-Dade NAACP chapter, said, “We are ready to talk with the city and the chamber of commerce about our action items. Our issue is with them, not the Sons of Confederate Veterans.”

He added: “We do not want to see racism walking down the streets of the city of Homestead funded by taxpayers.”

Within the next 30 days, the NAACP wants the City Council to:

• Apologize to the community for “failure to understand the hurt caused by the display of the flag.”

• Adopt guidelines for parades that had been drafted by the former Human Relations Board.

• Rescind the April 20 vote that disbanded the Human Relations Board.

• Have the mayor and City Manager Mike Shehadeh meet with members of the NAACP, PULSE and the Mexican American Council to discuss issues of concern raised by the flag dispute.

In an interview later Thursday, Mayor Bell said, ”I won’t apologize for something I didn’t do, for something the city is not responsible for,” referring to the rare display of the Confederate battle flag in the chamber’s parade.

She defended the council’s actions in dissolving five city boards, including the Human Relations Board.

”We have been talking about changing the boards since October,” said Bell, who won’t change her vote about the Human Relations Board. “Are board members entitled to positions for life?”

The mayor said she had spoken to Curry about meeting with him as well as Brad Brown, first vice president of the local chapter, former Homestead Mayor Roscoe Warren and Shehadeh. But she said Curry wanted to bring in his entourage.

”I didn’t want 10 people in the room,” Bell said as to why the meeting didn’t occur. “I didn’t want to make a show. I wanted to get something done.”

At the press conference, Curry said the NAACP also wants the chamber’s military affairs committee to restrict the flags in the Veterans’ Day parade to the American flag, flags of the U.S. Armed Services and the Florida state flag. And he wanted the NAACP to meet with chamber officials.

Mary Finlan, the executive director of the Homestead/Florida City Chamber of Commerce, said the NAACP had not contacted her organization to discuss its demands or willingness to discuss the issue.

She declined to comment on what Curry had said at the press conference.

If the NAACP’s demands were not met, Curry said the civil rights organization would proceed with a boycott against chamber businesses.

His message to businesses: “If you seek to offend us, we will seek other places to spend our money.”

Copyright 2009 Miami Herald Media Co

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