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Tucson Rodeo Parade to ban Confederate 'battle flag'; won't change color guard

The most familiar emblem of the Confederate army won't be allowed in the annual Tucson Rodeo Parade anymore, after a public outcry sparked by an op-ed by Councilwoman Lane Santa Cruz. But organizers said they won't eliminate another rebel banner from the color guard.

The stereotypical "Confederate flag," with white stars arranged on a blue cross on a field of red, was employed as the "battle flag" of the Army of Northern Virginia during the Civil War. Despite that limited use, in the 150 years since that conflict it has been widely used to symbolize the entire rebellion.

Related: Santa Cruz: Confederate flags are why I refuse to walk in the Tucson Rodeo Parade

Responding to the concerns expressed by Santa Cruz in her opinion piece published by TucsonSentinel.com, as well as Mayor Regina Romero and other community members, the Tucson Rodeo Parade Committee said that that particular flag will no longer be allowed in the yearly event.

"The battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia is incorrectly identified as the flag of the Confederate States of America, and the Parade Committee acknowledge that many people equate it to the issues of slavery," two organizers wrote to the Democratic councilwoman

"As it is also not directly a part of Southern Arizona history, we will not allow the display of the battle flag on any future entry," wrote Herb Wagner and Marshall Stewart, the secretary and chairman of the group that organizes the parade.

But the parade will continue to display a different Confederate flag — one used as a "national" flag by the rebel Southern states —as part of the color guard that leads the parade. Flag-carriers on horseback display "every flag of the governmental entities that at one time governed the city of Tucson," the organizers said. "These are the Spanish, Mexican, Confederate, State of Arizona, and of course, the flag of the United States of America."

Related: Confederate veterans are part of Arizona's history

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The parade's use of the Confederate "Stars and Bars" flag is not unique, but it is the most public of displays of that historic flag. The Tucson-Pima County Historical Commission has over the years caused controversy by including the Confederate flag in an annual celebration of Tucson's August 20 "birthday." That group has defended its use, saying the flags are flown within the confines of Downtown's Presidio San Agustín del Tucson, which functions as a museum.

Santa Cruz said she wrote her op-ed after being contacted by people "demanding to know why we would allow Confederate flags to fly during the parade," which was held nearly two weeks ago.

She said the immediate response by the parade committee was "dismissive, and we received a trite lesson on heritage and history."

In her piece last Thursday, Santa Cruz — who did not attend the parade — noted that the "battle flag" version of the banner was flown by the Sons of Confederate Veterans group, in addition to the flag carried by the color guard.

"Rather than promote inclusivity, the Tucson Rodeo Parade Committee has fed into Confederate revisionism, which is the narrative that the Civil War was about state rights, not about slavery; that the Confederate cause was just and heroic. This narrative attempts to erase reality, and obscures the fact that the South fought to perpetuate the violent enslavement of human bodies," she said.

Tuesday, parade organizers sent emails to Santa Cruz and other community members to announce they would no longer allow the "battle flag" in the parade.

For the councilwoman, that's not enough.

The Ward 1 representative is "opposed to all versions of the Confederate flag," her office said Wednesday.

Her office noted that "William Tappan Thompson, designer of 'the Stainless Banner,' the second official Confederate flag, wrote, 'As a people we are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race.' He put this out there in defense of his flag, which he also nicknamed 'The White Man's Flag.'"

Organizers said in their email to Santa Cruz that they have "championed the rich diversity of the participants heritage over the years, with entries including Native American, Hispanic, African-American, and Anglo communities."

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"The Tucson Rodeo Parade Committee does not endorse any political or social movement. The entries in the Rodeo Parade are allowed based on their adherence to the parade theme of Western heritage and history. We do not promote any political or social theme, nor discourage any historically correct entry," they wrote.

Organizers did not immediately respond to questions put by TucsonSentinel.com on Wednesday afternoon.

The Confederate flag was flown over Tucson for a mere 80 days during the Civil War. A small detachment of Confederate troops arrived at the end of February 1862, but were driven out that May when Union forces arrived from California.

The "battle flag" version of the Confederate banner had been carried by the parade's color guard prior to 2016, when they switched to the "Stars and Bars" flag.

The color guard does not carry either the Tohono O'odham or Pascua Yaqui flag.

The city does not directly fund the rodeo parade, but has provided logistical support for the event. The government is barred by the Constitution from discriminating against any viewpoint expressed by the parade organizers or entrants, but the private group of organizers can determine who takes part in the event.

Michelle Garcia-Estrada, a spokeswoman for the Tucson Rodeo, noted that event is separate from the parade, and put on by a different organization.

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courtesy Curtis Dutiel

A Confederate flag, center, was flown last week by the honor guard at the front of the Tucson rodeo parade, along with a U.S. flag, and the flags of Arizona and Mexico and a variant of the 'castles and lions' Spanish royal standard.