May 5, 2003

Panel discusses state flag issues

By Eric Rangus

On Friday, April 25, the Georgia legislature voted to create a referendum on the state flag next March that will pit the current flag, raised above the capital in 2001, against a new design, one that does not include the controversial Confederate battle emblem.

The previous evening, Thursday, April 24, one of the more influential Georgia lawmakers concerning the flag and an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) spoke in 207 White Hall about the timely issue, which would come to a head just 24 hours later.

“A Forum on the Georgia State Flag” was an excellent history lesson on the origins of the 1956 and 2001 state flags. The teachers were Georgia House member Tyrone Brooks (D-Atlanta) and Neil Bradley of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Division.

The event was presented by the Emory Chapter of the ACLU and cosponsored by Emory Common Cause and the Informal Debate Society.

During his 40-minute talk, Brooks spoke about the attitudes in 1956 Georgia that led to the Confederate battle emblem being added to the state flag, as well as the civil rights movement that followed.

He told not only of well-known civil rights leaders who died during the struggle, like Martin Luther King Jr., but also of lower profile people whose sacrifices were no less noble—activists like Viola Liuzzo, a white woman from Michigan who was murdered in Mississippi while working to register African Americans to vote.

Brooks also detailed the 2001 effort to remove the Confederate battle symbol from the state flag. “On Jan. 31, 2001, is when the governor signed the bill,” said Brooks, who sponsored the House bill to change the flag. “Gov. [Roy] Barnes gave me the pen he used to sign it, and I had it framed.”

Bradley gave a history lesson as well. He told of riots in Columbus, Ga., in 1968 stemming from African American police officers not wanting to wear American flag patches on their uniforms. That year Richard Nixon said all police officers should wear flag patches on their sleeves

“There are deeply held beliefs about what people assign to the U.S. flag,” Bradley said. “In 1968, the U.S. flag was co-opted by the right wing in America; now you see it on every police uniform and even on camouflage outfits for the army.” Bradley said the flag was used to counter opposition the Vietnam War, which was at its height that year.