Originally created 01/18/00

Georgia boycott in works



ATLANTA -- Elected officials in both parties, from the governor down, made it clear Monday they have no interest right now in removing the Confederate emblem from Georgia's flag, despite a threatened boycott by the Rev. Jesse Jackson's organization.

"I'm saying what I've said all along -- we have a lot of issues on our plate, and this is just not one that's in the mix right now," Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes said.

"There is no groundswell of support in Georgia to change our flag, and people do not see it as a priority," said Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, also a Democrat.

Senate Republican leader Eric Johnson of Savannah said he doesn't think the state's mood has changed since former Gov. Zell Miller tried and failed to push a flag change through the Legislature in 1993.

"I think the flag's here for a long time," he said.

Civil rights activists, wanting to capitalize on publicity generated by the Super Bowl in Atlanta, plan to call Jan. 30 for a tourism boycott of Georgia, said Joe Beasley, Southern regional director for the Rev. Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

"We will use whatever technique is necessary to focus attention on the flag in Georgia," he said in an interview published Monday in an Atlanta paper.

Georgia's flag bears the state seal on the left and a representation of the Confederate battle flag on the right. The Confederate emblem was added by legislators in 1956, two years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled racial segregation illegal in public schools.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People started a similar economic boycott Jan. 1 in South Carolina, which flies the Confederate battle flag over its Statehouse.

Thousands of people marched on the Statehouse in Columbia on Monday to protest the flag and to demand a permanent state holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

All Georgia chapters of the NAACP, including Augusta's, were marshaled to South Carolina on Monday to join protests there, said Alexander Smith, the civil rights group's local president.

"The Rainbow Coalition is part of the 74-member coalition in the NAACP, and it stands to reason we would join in on that effort," Mr. Smith said of the Rev. Jackson's call to boycott Georgia.

The Augusta chapter has not been notified of an official position, however, Mr. Smith said.

Tourism is Georgia's second-largest industry, behind manufacturing, accounting for $18 billion a year, according to the state Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism. Atlanta claims about 60 percent of that revenue.

Augusta -- Richmond and Columbia counties -- contribute less than 3 percent of the state's tourism revenue.

"It's difficult to gauge whether other organizations will align themselves with Rainbow/PUSH," said Rebecca Rogers, director of marketing and communications for Augusta Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau. And until officials know how many organizations will rally behind the Rev. Jackson, the impact of such a movement on Augusta is unclear, Mrs. Rogers said.

Because Augusta is so close to the South Carolina border, tourism officials have been prepared to receive any overflow that might result from the NAACP boycott, Mrs. Rogers said. The Rev. Jackson's campaign could negatively affect that overflow, however.

Mr. Taylor was Mr. Miller's floor leader in 1993 when Mr. Miller sought to change the flag.

"I would hope at some point in time Georgia would have a new symbol," Mr. Taylor said. But this is not the time, he added. "I hope the Legislature won't take it up. It's divisive when we should be focusing on education and economic opportunity."

Republican Sen. Bill Stephens of Canton said the issue "would be a huge, unnecessary, unwarranted distraction" and added, "I think it's important to note that nobody in Georgia asked Reverend Jackson his opinion. Reverend Jackson may have good intentions, but he's meddling in something that isn't any of his business."

Rep. Jimmy Skipper of Americus, the House Democratic whip, said a new attempt to change the flag "would have a difficult time passing, just like when Governor Miller proposed it."

Mr. Beasley said the boycott will appeal directly to black National Football League players, urging them to protest the return of the Super Bowl to Atlanta until the flag is changed.

The last time the Georgia Dome was the site of the Super Bowl, in 1994, civil rights groups staged a protest against the Confederate emblem.

The upcoming Super Bowl demonstration will be the first time flag opponents, some of whom view the emblem as a racist symbol, will seek economic sanctions against Georgia, Mr. Beasley said.

Staff Writer Heidi Coryell contributed to this article.