New Ga. Flag Awaits Governor's OK

Wednesday, January 31st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) — A new Georgia flag awaits the approval of Gov. Roy Barnes, whose spirited pleas to change the current flag and its prominent Confederate battle emblem helped push the proposal through the Legislature.

The Senate voted 34-22 on Tuesday to approve the new flag, which reduces the Confederate emblem to one of five small historic flags on a ribbon below the state seal. The vote virtually consigns to history a flag that some say symbolizes Southern valor but others contend represents slavery.

``This issue that has divided this state is over,'' said Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker, the son of a sharecropper and the chamber's highest-ranking black.

Barnes could sign the bill, which passed the House last week, as early as Wednesday. He said he hopes Georgians can unite under the new flag and forget the heated debate surrounding the issue.

``I think the people of Georgia were ready to move on, they were ready for this matter to be resolved,'' Barnes said. ``They did not want a long, drawn-out process like they just had in South Carolina.''

A fight over the Confederate battle flag that flew atop the South Carolina statehouse led to an economic boycott by civil rights groups. The flag was eventually moved to another site on the Capitol grounds, but some black leaders say it is still displayed too prominently.

Civil rights groups promised to call off any boycotts in Georgia if the new flag was approved.

As he did before the House vote, Barnes appeared before the Senate to urge the new banner's adoption. Barnes, whose great-grandfather fought for the Confederacy at Vicksburg, Miss., said the debate threatened to distract lawmakers from other issues and endanger Georgia's economy.

``It is our job, our duty and our great challenge to fight the voices of division and seek the salve of reconciliation,'' Barnes told the Senate.

Opponents of the new Georgia flag said they were angry about the change and the way it was rushed through the Legislature.

``I'm mad as a hornet,'' said Bill Cawthon, a member of the Southern Heritage League. ``Our flag will always remain our flag. We will never accept the new flag.''

Others were disappointed by the blocking of Republican amendments to allow a nonbinding state referendum on the flag and to create a 39-member state flag commission.

``We think we offered the people of Georgia a great compromise to participate in the designing of a flag that by legislation must be flown,'' Republican Sen. Sonny Perdue said. ``We think it ought to be a Georgia flag and not one that's been cooked up in a phone booth.''

Rep. Calvin Smyre, one of the architects of the bill, said resolving the flag debate would lift the cloud that has been hovering over the state.

``It's not a victory as such, and I don't want people seeing it that way, but it is time to say let's move on,'' he said. ``So I'm saying let's tone it down and move on.''

In Mississippi, the only state besides Georgia with the Confederate emblem on its flag, voters will decide in April whether to remove the symbol.


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