Georgia Still Burning Over State Flag Issue

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:20 PM EDT

( - It's not like Sherman's march through Georgia during the Civil War, but many Georgians are still fighting over whether elements of the Confederate flag should adorn the Georgia state flag once again.

Last year, the state eliminated the Confederate battle flag from the state flag in order to quell criticism that it reminded people of the state's past and slavery. Others want to see the old flag restored in order to preserve Southern heritage.

During the recent election campaign, Republican Governor-elect Sonny Perdue promised that the state flag issue would be put to a voter referendum. But insiders have said since the November 5 election, Perdue has not said how he would fulfill that promise.

Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor Thursday called such a referendum "hopelessly divisive" for Georgia and said "we need to leave this flag issue alone." The earliest a vote could appear on a statewide ballot likely would be 2004.

Taylor, a Democrat, said Georgia should stick with last year's adopted flag even though it angers some Southern heritage groups.

Instead, Taylor believes Georgia should concentrate on protecting the state's image as one which maintains "a vibrant business climate and celebrates the diversity of our state."

But at least one group is prepared to rally around the flag issue. The Sons of Confederate Veterans, a Southern heritage group, expressed confidence this week that Perdue will keep his promise and put the issue to a referendum because they believe it's the right thing to do.

"We believe that Sonny Perdue is a man of his word and his campaign promises," said SCV spokesman Dan Coleman.

Coleman claimed Perdue was elected governor because "the people of Georgia have spoken loudly and clearly about wanting to have a decision on what their flag is and he promised that he would let the people's voice be heard on it." Perdue will become Georgia's first Republican governor in 130 years.

Last week, state Rep. Bobby Franklin, a Marietta Republican, filed a proposed state constitutional amendment that would ask Georgia voters if the current flag should be replaced with the previous one.

Opponents contend that the old flag is a reminder of the state's past and slavery, but Coleman said those critics don't know their history.

"The (Confederate) flag was incorporated into the Georgia state flag in 1956 to honor those (Confederate) soldiers and for no other reason," Coleman said.

"Their allegations purely and simply not true," said Coleman. "We believe that all Southerners, whether they are minority, white or whatever, have a right to be proud of their Southern heritage."

Some Georgians believe business interests helped pressure the state legislature into substantially shrinking the size of the Confederate battle emblem on the state's flag.

Others claim the change in the state flag helped Georgia land a Daimler Chrysler plant in Pooler. Daimler Chrysler officials have denied that the flag was a factor.

Adopted in 2001, the current Georgia state flag has a blue field showcasing the state seal with a ribbon made of flags reflecting the state's history, along with the words "In God We Trust." Thirteen stars surrounding the state seal indicate Georgia's position as one of the original 13 American colonies.

The previous flag that flew from 1956 until 2001 had two fields; one of deep blue on the left third of the flag that contained the state seal, and the rest including the battle flag of the Confederacy.

E-mail a news tip to Jim Burns.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.