Originally created 11/17/00

Flag issue divides legislators



ATLANTA - The 2001 General Assembly session offers a "golden opportunity" for lawmakers to move beyond a painful chapter in Georgia history - its resistance to racial integration - by removing the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag, state Sen. David Scott said this week.

"It was placed (on the state flag) for the wrong reasons," Mr. Scott, an Atlanta Democrat, told an audience at Georgia Institute of Technology. "It should be put aside in our history books where it belongs."

But the likelihood of passing such a bill is no greater now than back in 1993, when then-Gov. Zell Miller spent much of his political capital on a failed bid to change the flag, Sen. Joey Brush said.

"We can choose to see what we want to see in this flag," said Mr. Brush, R-Appling.

Mr. Scott, who is black, and Mr. Brush, who is white, debated the flag issue for nearly two hours Wednesday night before more than 100 students. Their exchange represented a divided state in microcosm.

According to a recent poll, 49 percent of Georgia voters oppose removing the battle emblem, and 33 percent support the change. The remaining 18 percent had no opinion.

One of the few points the senators agreed on was that lawmakers will be forced to deal with the issue during the upcoming session.

Now that the South Carolina Legislature has lowered the Confederate battle flag from its Capitol dome, opponents of the flag have shifted their focus to Georgia.

After lying low during the fall campaign season, the Coalition to Change the Georgia Flag met last weekend and vowed to push for a bill that would restore the state's pre-1956 flag. The former standard was adopted in 1879 and based on the first Confederate national flag.

To members of the coalition, which is spearheaded by black political and civil rights leaders, the Confederate battle emblem represents slavery and white supremacy. But to members of Southern heritage groups, it honors the memory of Confederate soldiers who died fighting for their native land.

Mr. Scott said the key to swaying white Southerners to support changing the flag is to educate them on what motivated members of the 1956 General Assembly to switch from the old flag to the current one.

He argued that the battle flag was taken up throughout the 20th century by hate groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, and by Southern segregationists during the civil rights era as a visual symbol of opposition to court-ordered integration of schools and other public places.

"Everywhere you go where you see pictures of lynchings of black people ... you also see pictures of that Confederate flag," Mr. Scott said.

Reach Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424.