Tuesday, March 02, 2004

The flag flap

Georgia is voting today, not only for a Democratic presidential candidate but also on a state flag referendum.

I have to admit, I've not kept up on the latest flag controversy. But after reading in the past week about the upcoming vote and the lobbying efforts of some prominent black leaders, it's captured my interest.

Here's a real quick primer [pronounced PRIME-er for those of you laboring under the all-too-common belief that the word is pronounced PRIM-mer] on our state flag situation:

- In 1956, the state legislature slapped the Confederate battle emblem on the flag as a protest of the national Civil Rights movement.

- In 2001, Gov. Roy Barnes rushed through a new flag that included tiny little versions of other important banners in the state's past, including the 1956 flag.

- In 2003, the state legislature designed a new flag and ordered today's non-binding referendum for voters to choose between this new flag and Barnes' 2001 flag. There's not an option to support the 1956 flag.

Personally, I think all the flag stuff is silly. I, being a 6th-generation Georgian and absolute Son of the South, do take pride in my "heritage" and have a certain fondness for the Confederacy, but I recognize that the Confederate battle flag has long ago ceased to represent any of the feelings I have about the South and the Confederacy. It represents racist rednecks, and I say good riddance.

But here's the thing I was shocked to discover when I actually started paying attention to this new flag flap. The 2003 flag, which I guess is the "official" state flag of the moment, is a near-replica of the first Confederate national flag - the flag properly called the Stars and Bars.

To wit:

New Georgia Flag

First Confederate National Flag

The Stars and Bars is the flag I see as the way for non-racist Southerners to show their respect for the Confederacy and the 258,000 Southern men who died defending it. I have a tiny little Stars and Bars in my office at home.

So the state again has is a flag that incorporates a powerful symbol of the Confederacy. And black leaders are up in arms, working hard to defeat this image of Georgia's racist, segregationist past, right?


Andrew Young and powerful state Rep. Tyrone Brooks are leading an effort to get black Georgians to support the 2003 flag (the one that looks almost identical to the first Confederate national flag). To their credit, these leaders are saying, in effect, it's time to move on. Not approving the 2003 flag would open the possibility that the 1956 flag could rear its ugly head again, and I don't think anyone outside of the Sons of Confederate Veterans wants that.

But it's an interesting dynamic here. On the one hand, there's a symbol (the Confederate battle flag) that is so reviled in the black community (and most of the white community) that it inspires protests, calls for boycotts, etc. On the other hand, there's another symbol (the first Confederate national flag) which also represents the Confederacy, but has black leaders actively lobbying for its adoption.

The obvious difference is the aforementioned association of the battle flag with the racist rednecks. But the core idea (respect for Georgia's Confederate heritage) of both symbols is the same.

I guess the real difference is that most people won't realize the Stars and Bars-influenced state flag is, in fact, a takeoff of the Confederate national flag. Ignorance is bliss, I suppose.


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