New Georgia Flag Approved

Georgia flag
The Georgia Senate, exhorted by the governor to "seek the salve of reconciliation," voted 34-22 on Tuesday to reduce the Confederate fighting banner on the state flag to a miniature symbol.

The vote and the expected signature of Gov. Roy Barnes consigns to history a flag that some say symbolizes Southern valor but others contend represents the dark side of the Confederacy -- slavery.

The rebel banner, added to the flag in 1956, occupies two-thirds of the current flag. On the new flag, it will be reduced to one of five historic flags displayed on a ribbon below the state seal.

Senate Democrats, who steered the bill to passage with Barnes' help, beat Republican amendments that would have changed the bill, requiring a new vote in the House, which approved it last week.

Black leaders, who had threatened an economic boycott to get the flag changed, had said they would call off any boycotts if the flag is approved. Southern heritage groups have opposed the change.

Some historians say the rebel banner was added to the flag 45 years ago in response to the federal order to desegregate schools. Supporters say it was meant only to honor the memory of Confederate soldiers.

Barnes introduced the new flag in a surprise move last week, and the measure passed the House. Designed by a retired Atlanta architect, the proposed flag features the Georgia state seal on a blue field above a ribbon with the words "Georgia's History" and five small, historic banners, including the current flag.

As he did before the House vote last week, Barnes appeared before the Senate to urge the new banner's adoption.

"We are one people forever woven together in a tapestry that is Georgia," he declared before the vote. "We are all one or at least we should be, and it is our job, our duty and our great challenge to fight the voices of division and seek the salve of reconciliation."

Democratic Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, the Senate's presiding officer, said the vote would "echo across the South and across the nation."

The chamber's highest ranking black, Democratic Leader Charles Walker, the son of a sharecropper, said, "This flag issue has divided us. This vote today is about uniting us."

Republican Leader Eric Johnson argued the compromise flag was negotiated among Democrats in secret, sprung on an unsuspecting Legislature last week in a "surprise attack" and pushed in "the most vicious, focused political effort this Legislature has ever seen."

Supporters of the new flag worried that some rural white Democrats would vote against the bill. That happened in the Democrat-controlled House, but enough Republicans voted for the bill that it passed, 94-82.

Taking issue with those who claim the change dishonors the South's heritage, Barnes said the state will never forget those who, like his great-grandfather, fought at Vicksburg, or Georgians who fought at Yorktown, Normandy or the jungles of Vietnam.

"The (new) flag honors all of them, just not one of them," he said.

Many senators spent the last several days seeking out constituents' views and faced heavy lobbying on both sides.

The last attempt to remove the rebel symbol from the Georgia flag came in 1993, when then-Gov. Zell Miller passed the measure through the Senate but withdrew it in the face of a certain loss in the House.

South Carolina last year moved the Confederate flag from atop its Statehouse to a spot on the grounds after several marches, protests and an NAACP travel boycott.

Before the Georgia Senate convened, brothers Jimbo and Clayton Henson, dressed as Confederate soldiers, held a sign reading, "Stop the racism on Southern people." Jimbo Henson explained, "We need to dispel the myth that we are all racist."

©MMI The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed