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In Compromise, Georgia Raises a New Flag

May 09, 2003|From Associated Press

ATLANTA — A new state flag without the Confederate emblem was raised over the Capitol on Thursday after a redesign aimed at laying to rest a dispute that inflamed race relations and roiled Georgia politics.

As the old flag came down, drivers slowed their cars to watch and there were scattered cheers and boos from a crowd on the Capitol lawn.

"This is a historic day in Georgia and I didn't want my daughter to miss out on it," said Lateshia Jackson, an African American who brought her 6-year-old, Nikki, to the flag raising. "The process worked and these redneck holdouts can carry all the signs and boo all they want to. It's a good day for me, my daughter and some lost sanity in Georgia."

The new flag went up immediately after Gov. Sonny Perdue signed a bill to replace an unpopular design adopted in 2001.

The 2001 flag was a blue banner that contained a small Confederate emblem along the lower edge. It succeeded Georgia's 1956 flag, which was dominated by a large Confederate emblem that was added by the Legislature at the height of Southern resistance to integration.

The flag that was hoisted Thursday contains the Georgia coat of arms and the words "In God We Trust" on a blue field in the top left corner, with a wide white stripe between two red stripes to the right.

Georgia voters will choose between the new flag and the 2001 flag in a referendum next March. Few give the old flag any chance to win.

Many groups had lobbied for Perdue to veto the bill, but the governor said it would be in the state's best interest to move on.

The 2001 flag was pushed through by Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes after a similar controversy in South Carolina led to an economic boycott directed by the NAACP. But the 2001 flag was never popular, and its busy blue banner with a huge state seal was voted the nation's ugliest by a group of flag experts.

Perdue, Georgia's first Republican governor in more than a century, ousted Barnes in November after promising to let people vote on the flag's design.

As governor, Perdue proposed a vote that included the 1956 flag as an option, but in the end, that didn't happen. After months of arguing -- and a threat of an economic boycott by black groups -- lawmakers drew up a new flag instead.

The compromise angered supporters of the 1956 flag, including about a dozen who stood outside the Capitol on Thursday to protest the new flag.

"All we got was another politician's rag," said Tim Pilgrim, a protester from Smyrna. "There's no real referendum here. It's just a slap in the face, and we've been betrayed again."

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