Evolving State Flag
At the beginning of the Civil
War, several flags
represented the Confederate
States of America.
The flag of the Confederacy, called the Stars
contained a large blue stripe on its left side, with a circle
of stars representing each state in the Confederacy. On its right
side were three stripes—two red and one white. The
Confederate Battle Flag, the more well-known
flag from the Civil War, featured a blue cross, or “X” shape, on
a red background, with stars in the blue. It evolved during the
Civil War to include large white portions and a red stripe.
From 1920-1956 Georgia's state flag included the old Stars and Bars
flag of the Confederacy: down the left, a blue stripe with the
Georgia state seal; on the right, two red stripes with one
In 1948, as a symbol that many Southern whites opposed integration,
the Confederate Battle Flag appeared at a Dixiecrats convention
This flag represented a protest against the social changes that
were beginning to happen, and the desires of African Americans to
earn an equal place in society. In
May 1954, for example, the landmark
Supreme Court ruling of Brown
v. Board of Education paved the way for the
acceleration of the Civil
Rights Movement and the end of segregation when it declared racial segregation unconstiutional. Many white
southerners staunchly opposed the idea of their
children attending school with black children. The
dramatic public reappearance of the Confederate Battle Flag symbolized
such mounting tensions.
In 1956, Governor
Marvin Griffin and members of the Georgia state
legislature introduced a bill designed to give historical significance
to the state flag, which they perceived as lacking a genuine connection
to Georgia’s past. They conceived a
new state flag,
where one-third of the design featured a blue stripe
inserted with the Georgia seal. The old Confederate Battle
Flag crossed the remaining two-thirds of the design. The cross
on the battle flag portion contained thirteen stars, representing
original colonies and Georgia’s connection to the
founding of the United States.
On February 9, 1956, the legislature passed the bill approving
this new state flag, and it was signed into law
four days later. Its supporters thought that the
new flag would honor the coming centennial of the Civil War
and would commemorate the bravery of the soldiers who fought in
it. Opponents of the new state flag were concerned that it was
a veiled and negative reaction to the Brown v. Board of
because the majority of Georgia's citizens had not voiced
dissatisfaction with the old state flag.
In the late 1990s, Governor
Roy Barnes vetted proposals
for new state flags. Much controversy
followed, making the flag discussion one
of the pivotal issues during the Georgia 2002 gubernatorial election.
In 2003, with Sonny
Perdue as Governor, the state flag changed once again. It
now features Georgia's coat of arms, encircled by thirteen
stars in a blue field. Two red stripes and one white stripe
frame this design.
These changes in the state flag have paralleled the ongoing
discussion of race relations among Georgia's
citizens. While laws have been enacted to ensure the equal
and fair treatment of African Americans, Native Americans, and other
non-white groups in the state, flags and other material objects
from the Civil War and eras Jim Crow can send mixed messages about
how much progressive change truly has been accomplished. When
Americans divide by race over the empowering or oppressive meanings
of the Confederate flag, or the O.J.
Simpson trial, or the Rodney
King verdict, they suggest a concern for something more than
issues of heritage or respect. Perhaps what rests behind such
debates are perceptions that social conditions have
not significantly improved for members of minority groups,
or if the Civil
Rights Movement did accomplish its goals for social
equality, then members of the majority group now risk being
diminished and oppressed.
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1. Discuss other symbols besides Georgia's state flag that may
possess conflicting or controversial meanings. Examples might
yellow ribbons seen on homes, trees, clothing, and cars
during wartime, or the "X" symbol
for the civil rights-era activist Malcolm
X on baseball caps and T-shirts. Is
it possible for people who are not offended by a symbol to wear
or display that symbol with respect for those who are offended?
2. Songs like "The
Star-Spangled Banner" and "You're
a Grand 'Ole Flag" attach meanings of reverence, pride,
and patriotism to the national flag. Explain how flags function
to unite the diverse members of a nation, and at what points in
history their meanings are especially effective.
3. Read our essay on North
Georgia's Alternative Press in our Athens
pages. Examine why you think a countercultural newspaper would
call itself Flagpole?
Take it to the Streets!
Working in small groups, design an original flag for your school,
community, or city. Be prepared to explain how your choices
of symbols, colors, words (if applicable), and design reflect the
character and priorities of the people that your flag represents.
Writer: Mary Boyce Hicks
Kamille Bostick, Christina L. Davis, Mary Boyce Hicks, and Professor
Mary Boyce Hicks
Site Designer: William Weems
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