Never a group content to abandon lost causes, the Sons of the Confederate Veterans continues to push for soldiers who fought for the South in the Civil War to be included in the Florida Veterans' Hall of Fame --- through legal action, if necessary.
A panel formed to suggest names for the hall to Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet did not choose either of two Confederate nominees for the next class Thursday. It selected other veterans, including former Gov. Lawton Chiles, to be inducted into the hall --- but all those veterans were honorably discharged from the U.S. military, which state officials say is necessary for induction.
The controversy erupted in February, when Department of Veterans' Affairs Executive Director Mike Prendergast told Scott and the Cabinet that the agency was not recommending the induction of three Confederates who were approved by the advisory council. Eventually, the Cabinet decided to send five former members of the U.S. armed forces into the hall, but not the Confederates.
As the council weighed the new nominees on Thursday, David McCallister of the Sons of Confederate Veterans --- which says the Southern soldiers are eligible --- said either his organization or individual members might sue the state over the disagreement.
"We may have to go to court to have an actual judge determine what that law says," said McCallister, who heads up the organization's committee dealing with the hall.
But Confederate symbols remain potent in the South, even more so after the recent killing of nine members of a black church in Charleston, S.C. The man charged in the crime has expressed white supremacist views.
The state NAACP staunchly opposes the inclusion of Confederate soldiers in the Florida hall. Dale Landry, who is heading up a new campaign for the state conference of the NAACP opposed to the flying of the Confederate battle flag on public spaces, said Thursday that the principle applies to the veterans' hall.
Supporters of the Confederate veterans "claim it's their heritage and it's the whole issue about heritage," Landry said. "We've got a heritage of black folks that were the slaves for those people. And today, we refuse to sit back now and say let them put their stuff up on public property while we pay taxes. That's a slap in our faces."
McCallister, who on Thursday wore a battle flag-themed tie and four pins that included either the battle flag or another Confederate banner, tried to distinguish between the two issues
"Here today, we're about the Veterans' Hall of Fame," he said. "We are not about the flag, we are not about any kind of public display of the flag, or anything else except the Veterans' Hall of Fame. And I think to bring other issues into this chamber is disingenuous and overreaching by Mr. Landry."
McCallister said the group would also support the inclusion of other soldiers who would be barred from the state's interpretation of the law, including those who fought before the state was formed and those who served before the Spanish-American War. For example, McCallister said the Seminole warrior Osceola could be considered.
"He was a Floridian, and he was a military veteran. I assume he would have received the equivalent of an honorable discharge," McCallister said.
The Florida Legislature could allow other veterans to be included in the hall by approving legislation, but Rep. Jimmie Smith, an Inverness Republican who also serves on the council, said he thought that was unlikely.
"What I do see, though, is more of a push to get the two entities that are dealing with that to come to their own solution," Smith said.