Elgin Jones, South Florida Times, May 11, 2009
An advisory board that addressed racial issues in Homestead and Florida City has been dissolved, leading some residents to question whether the move was an attempt to stop their fight against the Confederate Flag.
Led by Homestead Mayor Lynda Bell, all seven members of the Homestead City Council voted on April 20 to shut down the Homestead/Florida City Human Relations Board (HRB).
Bell said the HRB was not taking on matters that are important to the city’s residents. The board’s members, however, said they believe the city council was trying to block their efforts against the display of the Confederate Flag at taxpayer-funded events.
“I can’t help what others think; I will repeat what I stated in public,” Bell said in an email to the South Florida Times. “The city of Homestead is no longer a small town. We are 60,000 residents, and are in need of a community relations board of our own, that is more inclusive.”
Patricia “Pat” Mellerson is one of the founding members of the HRB, and was also its vice-chair.
“They do not want to deal with the Confederate Flag, and they think that by getting rid of the board, it will go away,” Mellerson said. “But I can tell you, it won’t.”
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 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.
Citing freedom of speech concerns and the fact that Confederate soldiers received presidential pardons, Chamber of Commerce officials refuse to ban them.
The HRB took up the issue, and sided with black residents who want the groups banned. Homestead officials, however, said it was out of their control because they are not the organizers.
In April, the Miami-Dade County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) joined the fray. Fearing the possibility of unrest at future events, the civil rights organization petitioned the Miami-Dade County School District to keep students and school bands out of events where the Confederate Flag is displayed.
A week later, on April 20, the Homestead City Council voted to dissolve the Human Relations Board.
The Human Relations Board was created in September 2002 after black city workers in Homestead complained of discrimination. Those allegations led to several community meetings where the exchanges often became heated.
Mellerson said the board has successfully resolved any number of issues brought before it without the support of Bell, including those that involved race, immigration, police profiling, employment and housing.
“If it was not for us taking a stand on the Confederate Flag, she would have allowed us to continue our work,” Mellerson said.
Bell, however, said her motives had nothing to do with the Confederate Flag, but rather was a part of streamlining all of the city’s boards so they focus on matters within the city of Homestead.