Originally created 02/29/04

Racist use of flag has tarnished symbolism



For the most part, I chose to stay out of the Georgia flag debate because, like a lot of people, both black and white, I believed there were more important issues to be concerned over.

But because the flag controversy still has not been resolved in some people's minds, I feel compelled to give my two cents on the issue.

First of all, I don't deny the sincerity of those who link the Confederate battle flag to their Southern heritage, though many still refuse to acknowledge the intent behind the Legislature's decision in 1956 to incorporate the Southern Cross in the banner's design.

What I don't comprehend is why these same people can't understand why many blacks find that flag so offensive.

Let me share an incident that may help explain why some blacks feel this way.

On Jan. 17, 1987, civil rights activist Hosea Williams and a group of other protesters were attacked by bottle- and rock-throwing thugs in Forsyth County, Ga., because they had the audacity to attempt a march to Cumming, the county seat, to draw attention to Forsyth's unwritten whites-only policy. The attack forced Mr. Williams' group to flee for their lives.

The incident drew national attention and upset many people, including myself. When Mr. Williams promised to return a week later, I was determined to be with him. Little did I know that more than 20,000 other people from across the country and of all races had made the same determination.

The march back to Forsyth County turned out to be one of the biggest civil rights rallies in this country's history. Buses carrying the marchers stretched for miles down Interstate 85 in a three-hour trip from Atlanta that normally would have taken about an hour.

The buses unloaded along the interstate near the on-ramp to Cumming. On the bus we were told not to respond to any racial slurs that we could expect to be hurled our way. Thankfully, about 3,000 Georgia National Guard, state and local police were on hand to keep the peace.

After lining up arm-in-arm, we proceeded to march toward the town. From our vantage point we couldn't see anything, until we came up the on-ramp.

Once we did, we saw that the road leading to Cumming was lined on both sides with Ku Klux Klan members in their robes and just ordinary whites who were not happy with what we were doing.

But what I noticed as much as the racist names we were being called were the Confederate flags these hate-filled people were waving.

They were making it clear that this flag was a symbol of how they felt about us.

What I didn't see were any Sons or Daughters of the Confederacy protesting against these people who were using the flag they love as a symbol of racist hate.

I think most blacks could better appreciate the position of flag supporters if they had, through the years, stepped up and demanded that their flag not be co-opted as a symbol of hate by racist groups such as the Klan.

Reach Mike Wynn at (706) 823-3218.