KEYSVILLE - Martin Luther King III vowed that Georgia will remove its symbol of hate - the state flag - or face the consequences of a boycott.
Hallelujahs and amens filled the tiny Mount Tabor African Methodist Episcopal Church where more than 150 people packed the wooden pews for Keysville's 13th annual Martin Luther King Jr. March and Celebration.
Mr. King, son of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., challenged the General Assembly to change the flag to the pre-1956 design, which did not include the Stars and Bars.
"Economics is what the power structure understands," said Mr. King, who is the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization his father founded 40 years ago.
"I hope Georgia understands what happened in South Carolina, because Georgia is a much bigger convention state. ... Georgia doesn't need to make the same mistake."
South Carolina was targeted for a tourism boycott by the NAACP after its leaders fought removing the Confederate Battle Flag from the Capitol dome. In an effort to reach a compromise, the flag was moved to the Statehouse grounds, but the boycott will continue until the flag is banished from the public property.
Mr. King was the featured speaker at the Keysville event, which began with a prayer breakfast in the church.
The participants then assembled outside in the morning chill for a short march to Martin Luther King Jr. Road.
As the sun rose so did voices and spirits, and the group paraded down Chinaberry Street.
At the intersection, the procession stopped and Keysville Mayor Emma Gresham presented Rep. Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta, with a street sign bearing his name.
"As of today there is no more Chinaberry Street," Ms. Gresham said. "Starting today it is Tyrone Brooks Street."
The veteran civil rights activist and president of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials humbly accepted the honor, but said he didn't deserve it.
"The work that I do is what I am supposed to do," he said. "This dedication is not just for me as an individual; it's for all of us in the movement."
As a member of the civil rights movement, Mr. Brooks fully supported Mr. King's sentiments concerning Georgia's state flag.
"This is the number one issue of the Georgia General Assembly," he said. "I am cautiously optimistic that the General Assembly of Georgia will not allow this state to be hit with major sanctions and endure the economic loss that South Carolina has endured.
"We want to return to the pre-1956 flag; that's the flag that all of us can salute proudly. We can never salute the current flag, just as Jewish people would never salute the swastika," he said.
Mr. King also said the flag symbolizes as much evil as the swastika and must be removed.
"We've been working on it at least 17 years; we've been talking about it longer than that," Mr. King said of the offensive symbol.
The previous state flag was first flown in 1902 to incorporate Georgia's coat of arms on a vertical blue band. In 1955, Atlanta attorney John Sammons Bell suggested a new flag to include the Confederate Battle Flag. The law became effective July 1956.
"This flag specifically was put there to protest activities of the civil rights movement, and it certainly is repulsive," Mr. King said. "It sickens me."
Mr. King said it is sad that in 2001 the issue has to be addressed.
"It's a symbol that is so strong. We need unifying symbols to bring everyone together. This is not unifying; it is contentious," he said.
He said he is confident the flag will come down.
"It's going to work, there's no question about it. The better question is, how long will it take?"
Reach Lisa M. Lohr at (706) 823-3332.
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