The Flags That Have Flown Over Georgia
revised August 2004, May 2011
Between the 1960s and 2004, there has been a lot of interest and controversy over the Georgia State Flag. This all dealt directly with the incorporation of the Confederate Battle Emblem into the state flag in 1956. This came to a heated boil in the 1990s.
I did some research on what flags were flown over Georgia. Some of this was quite surprising. I was amazed to learn that there was not an officially delcared state flag until well after the Civil War. Once a flag was agreed upon and voted on by the State Legislature, only a few years would transpire before the flag issue was back before the House bodies for change or revision. While the colony and state of Georgia is over 300 years old, To date, the 1956 "Dixie" flag enjoyed the longest amount of time flying above the state capitol building. But in the 45 years it flew, it was embroiled in scandal as its detractors veiwed it as a symbol of White Supremacy.
Here is a concise history of the major flags that have flown over the lands that are now the State of Georgia. This information was primarily gathered from the State of Georgia's Archives web site. I have also included comments, opinons, exerpts and histroical information that made each flag an official banner of the State of Georgia.
In the 500 years since Columbus landed in the Americas, many flags have flown over Georgia. Because of its location, climate, natural resources, and vast tracts of arable lands, Spain, France, and England competed with rival claims over the territory of present day Georgia. All that changed in 1776, however, when the American colonies united to throw off the yoke of foreign power and a new nation proudly hoisted its own flag. Old glory fluttered and snapped in the winds over the United States for 85 years until ominous winds began to blow and the nation was divided. Many changes have occurred in our flags throughout the years and the Stars and Stripes that we salute today bears no resemblance to Georgia's first flag - the Royal Banner of Ferdinand and Isabella of the late 15th century.
The Flags of the New World
Royal Banner of Ferdinand and Isabella, 1474 - 1518
Columbus and other early Spanish explorers to the New World brought with them the royal banner of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The flag incorporates the two monarchs' royal arms- the castle of Castile and the lion of Leon. Numerous Spanish flags were later produced utilizing these arms- often placed on a shield and capped by a crown.
The first European known to have set foot on the southeastern mainland of North America was Spaniard Juan Ponce de Leon, who landed somewhere on Florida's eastern coast in 1513. His ship probably flew a flag with the royal banner, as did the ships of explorers and sea captains who later sailed through the coastal waters of present-day Georgia.
In 1518, Spain created a new imperial banner that included the coats of arms of other kingdoms that had joined Spain. The result was an ornate checkerboard of contiguous coats of arms. Each arm was portrayed at least twice on the flag, and some arms (such as Ferdinand and Isabella's) were shown four times.
Spanish Cross of Burgundy Flag, Flown over the territory that would become Georgia 1520 - 1785
In addition to the royal banner, Spain had many other flags, including this one first adopted in the 1520s. There were many versions of this flag, but in its most simple form it consisted of a red saltire (diagonal cross) on a field of white. Actually, the design was supposed to represent two crossed branches, the extensions on either side representing bases of limbs which have been cut off.
The saltire design, known as the Cross of Burgundy, was a symbol of Philip I, Duke of Burgundy and father of Charles I, who became Spain's king in 1516. Variants of the Burgundy cross flag- including some versions with smooth-edged saltires- became widely used by the Spanish military on both land and sea. This is the principal flag that flew over Spain's colonial empire in the New World until 1785.
Possibly, Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón brought this flag to Georgia in 1526 when he arrived with 600 Spanish colonists to found the ill-fated settlement of San Miguel de Gualdape. Given the number of Spanish missions, garrisons, and settlements that would follow, this flag almost certainly was used in Georgia.
French National Flag, 1370 - 1600
In 1523, France entered the race for New World territories. Its first explorer, Giovanni de Verrazano, sailed to the waters off Florida, then northward along the eastern coast. Whether he came ashore on Georgia's mainland is not known, but France used Verrazano's exploration to stake a claim to much of North American- including today's Georgia.
In 1562, France began its attempts to colonize North America, sending Jean Ribault and a band of French Huguenots to Florida. On the banks of the St. Johns River, Ribault erected a stone marker announcing France's claim to Florida. Thereafter, they sailed northward along Georgia's coast to present-day Port Royal, South Carolina, where they built a fort. A second expedition of Huguenots arrived two years later and built a fort at the mouth of the St. Johns River. Clearly, the French flag, which then consisted of three gold fleurs-de-lis on a blue background, flew in Georgia's coastal water as a result of the Huguenot colonization efforts.
The Flags of the Colonies
Great Britain's Union Flag, Flown over Georgia from 1606 - 1801
Although the British flag underwent a number of changes in the 17th century, the St. George's Cross continued as the official national flag. For seagoing ships, however, the official banner was the Union flag (better known as the Union Jack), which combined England St. George's Cross with Scotland's St. Andrew's Cross (a white saltire on blue). In 1707, the Union flag became Britain's national land flag. As of that date, all of present-day Georgia was included within the area claimed by the second Carolina charter (1665), so the Union flag would have been the official flag of what would one day become Georgia.
In 1721, Britain authorized construction of Fort King George at the mouth of the Altamaha River. Although the post was abandoned in 1727, the Union flag probably flew at the fort.
current national flag of Great
Britain did not come into existence until 1801, so throughout
Georgia's existence as a colony, the official land flag would
have been the 1707 flag. (This flag differs from the current version
as there are red stripes inside the white diagonal stripes.)
British Ensign, Flown over Georgia from 1707 - 1801
A square version of the Union flag on a field of red served as the ensign (or national flag at sea) and as the unit colors of British army regiments- with a red, yellow, or blue field, depending on the branch of the military. In the American colonies, the Union Jack on a red field also became a multipurpose flag commonly used on both land and sea.
Britain created the colony of Georgia in 1732, and James Oglethorpe and the first settlers arrived at Yamacraw Bluff in February 1733. Clearly, they brought the ensign (and probably the Union flag), as evidenced by the 1734 engraving of Savannah attributed to Peter Gordon. In the scene, a large flag is shown flying from the guardhouse, plus numerous British flags on the ships in the river.
Perhaps the common availability of British ensigns on naval vessels helps to explain why this flag was so widely used on both sea and land in the American colonies.
The current British Ensign incorporates the version
flag of Great Britain that came into existence in 1801, so throughout
Georgia's existence as a colony, the official land flag would
have been this version.
Grand Union Flag, 1775 - 1777
Although it is not exactly clear who created it and when, a new colonial flag was raised on January 1, 1776, at the camp of the Continental Army near Boston. Known as the Grand Union flag, Continental Union flag, or simply the Union flag, this banner featured the British Union Jack as a canton on a field of 13 red and white stripes representing the 13 colonies. The symbolism apparently carried a double message- loyalty to Great Britain, but unity of the American colonies.
In November 1775, the Continental Congress voted funds for a fleet of four ships to protect the southern colonies. One of the ships is known to have flown the Grand Union flag. It is likely that during the early years of the Revolution, American ships flying this flag docked at Savannah or sailed in the coastal waters off Georgia's mainland.
of the American Independence
Movement, 1775 - 1777
As the American Revolution approached, colonists began modifying the official British flag or creating new flags to symbolize their unhappiness with Britain's colonial policies. One common practice was to place phrases such as "Liberty and Union" on the red field of the British flag. Another often-seen protest flag depicted a rattlesnake- sometimes coiled and sometimes not- with the phrase "Don't Tread on Me."
Early in the war, there is record of a white flag with four red borders and the words "American Liberty" in red used in Georgia's coastal waters.
Tradition has long held that the Moultrie Flag, which flew over Fort Sullivan in Charleston Harbor, also flew in Georgia. This flag consisted of a white crescent on a blue field, although a later version added the word "Liberty."
The Flags of the United States of America
U.S. National Flag, 1777 - 1795
In June 1777, the Continental Congress decided to break the symbolic tie to Britain then reflected in the United States flag. By then, the colonies had declared their independence as new states. The 13 red and white stripes on the Grand Union flag were retained as a symbol of the 13 unified states. However, the British Union Jack was replaced with a canton consisting of a circle of 13 stars on a solid blue field- symbolic of "a new constellation" of 13 independent states. In actual practice, several versions of what would be known as the "Stars and Stripes" had cantons with stars arranged in other ways.
Tradition has long credited Betsy Ross with designing
the first Stars and Stripes for George Washington, but the best
available evidence suggests that credit should go to Francis Hopkinson,
a delegate to the Continental Congress from New Jersey.
U.S. Flag, 1795 - 1818
When Vermont joined the Union in 1791, followed by Kentucky the next year, the United States found itself with 15 states, but only 13 stars and 13 stripes on the national flag. A debate followed in Congress over whether the 1777 flag should serve as a permanent national flag, or whether the number of stars and stripes should be changed to reflect the number of states in the Union. In January 1794, lawmakers settled the question by adopting a new flag with 15 stripes and a blue union of 15 stars.
Since the legislation creating the new flag was
silent as to
the placement of the stars, various flag makers used different
arrangements. The most famous is that consisting of five staggered
rows of three stars, as shown on the famous Fort McHenry flag
that inspired the writing of the "The Star-Spangled Banner"
U.S. Flag Since 1960
Despite the admission of Tennessee, Ohio, Louisiana, Indiana, and Mississippi as states, the official U.S. flag continued to show 15 stripes and 15 stars. In 1818, Congress enacted a new flag law that reduced the number of stripes to 13 and provided for 20 stars in the union of the flag. More importantly, the act provided that on the admission of each new state, one star would be added to the flag's union, effective on the July 4 after statehood. Thus, after Illinois was granted statehood in December 1818, a twenty-first star was added to the U.S. flag on July 4, 1819.
Since the, the number of stars has increased and their arrangement changed as new states have joined the Union. Most recently, the flag changed following the admission, respectively, of Alaska and Hawaii as states in 1959 and 1960. Shown above is the U.S. flag that has flown over Georgia since July 4, 1960.
The Flags of the Confederate States of America
Secession Flags, 1860 - 1861
After the election of Abraham Lincoln as president in November 1860, unofficial flags consisting of a single star on a solid background began appearing across the South. As each star on the U.S. flag signified a state, a single star indicated that the state had withdrawn (or planned to withdraw) from the Union, which made it a sovereign power.
The best known of the single-star flags was the Bonnie Blue flag. The flag consisted of a solid blue flag, with a large white star in the center. Tradition holds that the Bonnie Blue flag was flown in Georgia during the early months of 1861, although no evidence has been found to support this claim. Better documented is a flag of the same design, but with a red star on a solid white background. Several accounts mention such a flag being flown in Augusta and Milledgeville in January 1861.
First National Flag of the Confederacy, 1861 - 1863 "Stars and Bars"
Soon after formation of the Confederate States of America, delegates from the seceded states met as a provisional government in Montgomery, Alabama. Among the early actions was appointment of a committee to propose a new flag and seal for the Confederacy. The proposal adopted by the committee called for a flag consisting of a red field divided by a white band one-third the width of the field, thus producing three bars of equal width. The flag had a square blue union the height of two bars, on which was placed a circle of white stars corresponding in number to the states of the Confederacy: South Carolina, North Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Virginia, Tennessee, and Texas.
The First National Flag of the Confederacy soon came to be known as the "Stars and Bars." With seven stars at first, the number jumped to eleven with the secession of Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee, and finally to thirteen (in recognition of the symbolic admission of Kentucky and Missouri to the Confederacy). In some cases, the canton had a large star within the circle of stars. Also, at least two versions of the flag survive from that era with Georgia's coat of arms in the center of the stars.
Confederate Battle Flag, 1861 - 1865
The similarity of the Stars and Bars to the Stars and Stripes was not an accident. As the war progressed, however, sentiment for keeping a reminder of the American flag diminished in the South. More importantly, during the first major battle of the Civil War at Bull Run near Manassas Junction, Virginia, it was hard to distinguish the two flags at a distance.
Consequently, Confederate generals P.G.T. Beauregard and Joseph Johnston urged that a new Confederate flag be designed for battle. The result was the square flag sometimes known as the "Southern Cross" or "Dixie". The Confederate Battle Flag consisted of a blue saltire reminiscent of the St. Andrew's Cross, on which were situated 13 stars, with the saltire edged in white, all on a red background. A review of surviving Confederate Battle Flags shows that the stars were arranged in many ways, but the design above (with the central tip of each star pointing up) was the most common.
Second National Flag of the Confederacy, 1863 - 1865
Throughout the spring of 1863, the Confederate
the design for a new national flag for the Confederacy. On May
1, the last day of the session, both houses agreed to a flag consisting
of a white field, with a length twice as long as its width, and
a square Confederate Battle Flag two-thirds the width of the field
to be used as a canton (or union) in the upper left.
Despite the official dimensions provided in the Flag Act of 1863, many copies were made shorter to achieve a more traditional appearance and to prevent the white flag from being mistaken for a flag of truce.
The Second National Flag was widely known as the "Stainless Banner." Because the first issue of this flag draped the coffin of General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, it was also known as the "Jackson Flag."
Third National Flag of the Confederacy, 1865
Concern over the Second National Flag led to the introduction of a bill in December 1864 to change the national flag yet again. Although the Civil War was in its final stages, President Jefferson Davis signed legislation on March 4, 1865, creating the Third National Flag of the Confederacy.
The new banner had a width two-thirds of its length. The flag's canton (i.e., the Confederate Battle Flag) changed from a square to a rectangle of a width three-fifths the width of the flag, and of a length so that the field beyond it measured twice the width of the field below the canton. The flag continued to use a white field, except that the outer half of the field to the right of the Battle Flag canton consisted of a vertical red band. Authorized in the final months of the war, relatively few copies of the Third National Flag were made, and even fewer survived.
The State Flags of Georgia
Unofficial Georgia State Flag Before 1879
History does not record who made the first Georgia state flag, when it was made, what it looked like, or who authorized its creation. Probably, the banner originated in one of the numerous militia units that existed in antebellum Georgia.
In 1861, a new provision was added to Georgia's code requiring the governor to supply regimental flags to Georgia militia units assigned to fight outside the state. These flags were to depict the "arms of the State" and the name of the regiment, but the code gave no indication as to the color to be used on the arms or the flag's background. In heraldry, "arms" refers to a coat of arms, which is the prominent design--usually shown on a shield--located at the center of an armorial bearing or seal. Arms usually appear on seals, but they are not synonymous with seals. Based on the best available evidence, the above flag is a reconstruction of the pre-1879 Georgia state flag as it would have appeared using the coat of arms from the 1799 state seal.
Georgia State Flag, 1879 - 1902
In 1879, state senator Herman H. Perry introduced legislation, giving Georgia its first official state flag. Colonel Perry was a Confederate veteran, a fact that probably influenced his proposal to take the Stars and Bars, remove the stars, extend the blue canton to the bottom of the flag and narrow its width slightly. The legislation provided no height vs. length dimensions, but it did stipulate the width of the blue band was to be one-third the length of the entire flag. Also, the red of the flag was specified to be scarlet.
Why had Georgia finally adopted an official state flag? On the previous day, the 1879 General Assembly had passed a law rectifying state law regulating volunteer troops. Included in the revision was a provision that: "Every battalion of volunteers shall carry the flag of the State, when one is adopted by Act of the General Assembly, as its battalion colors." Governor Colquitt approved Georgia's first official state flag on October 17, 1879.
GaL. P.114: "An Act to declare and establish the flag of the State of Georgia." The flag is described as a "vertical band of blue next [to] the staff, and occupying one-third of the entire flag; the remainder of the space shall be divided into three horizontal parallel bands, the upper and lower of which said bands shall be scarlet in color, and the middle band white."
Georgia State Flag, 1902 - 1906
In 1902, as part of another major reorganization of state military laws, the General Assembly changed Georgia's state flag again. New language was added stipulating: "On the blue field shall be stamped, painted or embroidered the coat of arms of the State; and every regiment and unassigned battalion shall, when on parade, carry this flag." The above flag is a reconstruction of Georgia's flag with the addition of the state coat of arms. If flag makers had followed the letter of the law, Georgia's state flag from 1902 to 1956 would have appeared as pictured.
GaL. p.162: Description of the flag is included in the "Act to reorganize the military forces of this State." Section 85 states that "The flag of the State of Georgia shall be a vertical band of blue next to the flagstaff, and occupying one-third of the entire flag; the remainder of the space shall be equally divided into three horizontal bands, the upper and lower of which shall be scarlet in color and the middle band white. On the blue field shall be stamped, painted or embroidered, the coat of arms of the State. Every regiment and unassigned battalion or squadron shall, when on parade or review, carry this flag. It shall not be lawful for any person or persons to use the State flag or coat of arms for advertising purposes or other wise desecrate or misuse the same, and those so offending shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction shall be fined therefor.
Georgia State Flag, 1906 - 1920
Between 1902 and 1906, some unknown person or flag manufacturer added a gold-outlined white shield to the coat of arms, placed the date "1799" below the arms and added a red ribbon with "Georgia" below the shield. Although the General Assembly hadn't authorized any changes to the state flag, apparently no one contested the new version. In fact, a Georgia history book for children published in 1906 includes a full-page color rendering of this design, indicating this to be the state flag of Georgia.
GaL. pps. 177-178: Description of the flag is included in the "Act to reorganize the military forces of this State." Paragraph 60 states that "The flag of the State of Georgia shall be a vertical band of blue next to the flagstaff, and occupying one-third of the entire flag; the remainder of the space shall be equally divided into three horizontal bands, the upper and lower of which shall be scarlet in color, and the middle band white. On the blue field shall be stamped, painted or embroidered the coat-of-arms of the State. Every regiment and separate battalion or squadron shall, when on parade or review, carry this flag. It shall not be lawful for any person or persons to use the State flag or coat-of-arms for advertising purposes, or otherwise desecrate or misuse the same; and those so offending shall be guilty of a misdemeanor." Paragraph 61 provides for the preservation of "the flags of Georgia troops who served in the Army of the Confederate States … as priceless mementos of the cause they represented…"
Georgia State Flag, 1920 - 1956
By the late 1910s or early 1920s, a new, unofficial version of Georgia's state flag- one incorporating the entire state seal began appearing. There is no record of who ordered the change or when it took place.
The new flag may have resulted from a 1914 law changing the date on Georgia's state seal from 1799 (the date the seal was adopted) to 1776 (the year of independence). Because some flag makers had been including "1799" beneath the coat of arms, it became necessary to change the date on new flags. At that point, possibly the Secretary of State or a flag manufacturer may have decided that the entire state seal created a more uniform flag.
The first state publication to show Georgia's flag with a seal was the Georgia Official Register for 1927, which contained the artist's color rendering shown above. In reality, until the mid-1950s (when a new seal was drawn), various versions of the Georgia seal were used on state flags.
HB 689 was introduced, proposing adoption of an "official Coat of Arms and an official flag for the State of Georgia. " Section 2 of the bill describes the proposed flag as having "a vertical band of ultramarine blue next to the flag staff and occupying one-third of the entire surface of the flag; the remaining space shall be equally divided into three horizontal bands, the upper and lower of which shall be scarlet in color, and the middle band white. In the center of the ultramarine blue band, occupying four-fifths of the width of said blue band, there shall be stamped, painted or embroidered on a circular field of white, the official Coat of Arms of the State as designated in Section 1 of this Act. The Coat of Arms shall be ultramarine blue in a circular field of white."
GaL. p.311: Military Forces Reorganization Act. Article VI. Section 43 describes the flag as being "a vertical band of blue next to the flagstaff, and occupying one-third of the entire flag; the remainder of the space shall be equally divided into three horizontal bands, the upper and lower of which shall be scarlet in color, and the middle band white. On the blue field shall be stamped, painted or embroidered the coat of arms of the State." Article VI. Section 44 provides for the preservation of "the flags of the Georgia troops who served in the Army of the Confederate States."
Georgia State Flag, 1956 - 2001
In early 1955, Atlanta attorney John Sammons Bell (who later served as a judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals) suggested a new state flag for Georgia that would incorporate the Confederate Battle Flag. At the 1956 session of the General Assembly, state senators Jefferson Lee Davis and Willis Harden introduced Senate Bill 98 to change the state flag. Signed into law on February 13, 1956, the bill became effective the following July 1.
The 1956 version used an older version of the state seal. In the summer of 1954, two years prior to the new flag, a new redrawn state seal began to appear on state government documents. By the end of the decade, flag makers finally adopted the new seal on Georgia's official state flags.
The reason for the adoption of the Confederate Battle Emblem into the state flag has been surrounded in a lot of controversy. Many Civil Rights advocates argue the flag was changed in 1956 to incorporate the Confederate Battle Emblem as an act of defiance in the face of the United State Supreme Court decision on Brown V. Board of Education that began forced de-segregation into public schools. This myth has been perpetuated for so long, that many simply take this as an absolute fact.
Let's take a moment and reflect on this. Part of the way to understand this is to understand the mindset of the average citizen and the politicians back then. As it is now, politicians act on behalf of the constituants, and back then, de-segregation was not at all popular with the majority White constituancy. Had this been an act of defiance towards the US Supreme Court, it would have been turned into a public spectacle for that cause to further the careers of many politicians. There is no record anywhere that anybody publicly took this stand. Furthermore, The Supreme Court rendered it's decision on Brown Vs. Board of Education in 1954. Had that event been the real cause for the flag change, then it simply makes sense that it would have been done close after the decision was made, not two years later!
Extensive research over the public record in both government and media archives suggests a totally different reason. During his term in office, President Dwight D. Eisenhower declared the period between 1961 and 1965 to be a period of centennial commemoration of the Civil War. The entire country went on a Civil War craze. In the years prior to the centennial celebration, many things were done in preparation of the centennial celebration in both the South and the North. A good example of this was the establishment of historical markers around the country, with most of them pointing out important landmarks from the Civil War. In the State of Georgia, the state had a project that established historical markers at many sites of Civil War Interest. The result was that Georgia has more of these markers in place than in any other state in the Union.
As incredible as it may sound, in 1950 there were still a few surviving Civil War veterans. It was extremely important to many to recognize their place in history. The move to incorporate the Battle Emblem on the Georgia state flag was made to honor the Confederate Soldiers as part of the centennial celebrations.
In every public record, radio and television archive, as well as what was published in the newspapers of the time this is the story that was reported. The sponsors of the legislation that voted for the 1956 state flag change, along with their surviving relatives flatly deny any accusation that it was changed due to any racial supremacy or political statement being made about Brown Vs. Board of Education.
Georgia State Flag, 2001 - 2003
Since the 1960s, the removal of the Confederate Battle Flag from the state flag had been a contentious issue. The move was spearheaded by the movers and shakers of the civil rights movement. From the mid-1960s to 2001, it was a major item on the agenda of many Civil Rights leaders to have the Confederate Battle Emblem removed from the Georgia state flag. Over the ensuing years, because of the controversy, many Georgia cities and private businesses throughout the state refused to fly the Georgia flag. Among those were Black US Congresspeople from Georgia; Cynthia McKinney and John Lewis. They refused to display the 1956 state flag in their offices both in Georgia and in Washington DC.
During the time leading up to the 1996 Olympic Games held in Atlanta, Georgia, there was a lot of controversy in regards to displaying the state flag. It was finally decided that the state flag would not be flown at any of the Olympic venues. After the Olympics, State officials looked into the possibility of changing the state flag to something else less controversial. The NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) started national boycotts of those states that had State flags that incorporated the Confederate Battle Emblem or flew any version of the Confederate Battle Emblem on State property.
Despite the threats and the grandstanding by Civl Rights leaders, it was determined that over 80% of the citizens of Georgia did not want the flag changed. Just as there were people that were quite passionate about its removal, there were more that were just as passionate that wanted the flag to remain the same. Because the opinion polls were so lop-sided to retain the old flag, Governor Zell Miller (who served in that office 1991-1999) declared the flag issue was "dead" and he would not do anything to alter it.
In 2000, Roy Barnes assumed the office of Governor. He was much more sympathetic to the cause of changing the state flag. With his opinion being publicly known, this brought life back into the fight for changing the flag. In early 2000, Atlanta architect Cecil Alexander brought forth what was being called a "compromise" flag design. It consisting of the state seal, depicted in "Dahlonega Gold," surrounded by 13 white stars. Below the seal is a gold ribbon containing small images of the three previous official state flags of Georgia, as well as the current and a past version of the United States flag. Above the small rows of flags is the phrase "Georgia's History."
This was all done under a veil of secrecy and the public was not informed of this until mid-day on January 23, 2001. The next day, on January 24, 2001, the Georgia House approved H.B. 16, adopting Alexander's flag design as the new state flag with an amendment to add "In God We Trust" beneath the ribbon of flags. On January 31, 2001 Governor Roy Barnes signed the bill into law.
Georgia State Flag, 2003 - Current
The way the 2001-2003 state flag was concieved and made official, it left a very bad impression upon a lot of people. Over 80% of the state population did not want the flag changed so what was seen as a back room deal enraged a large portion of the electorate. Once the shock of what had occured set in, a lot of people started movements to have the flag replaced with the previous 1956 state flag. During the 2002 Gubenatorial election, Republican candidate Sonny Perdue made a central part of his platform a pledge to bring a public referendum in which the citizens of Georgia would decide what would be the state flag. When the election was held, Mr. Perdue won a stunning landslide over Governor Barnes. This was wholly attributed to the flag controversy. Mr. Perdue became the first Republican after the reconstruction period from the Civil War to become Governor. He easily won re-election later in 2006.
The Civil Rights leaders went crazy over the thought that the 1956 flag would without a doubt be voted in favor of re-adoption. There was no doubt it would be selected to become the state flag once again if it was offered as a selection in a public vote. Knowing what was about to happen, yet another alternative flag was designed. The new "compromise flag" reverted to a design that resembled the First National Flag of the Confederacy. It was also the basis of the battle flag of the 27th Georgia Infantry, one of which is currently housed in the Georgia capitol museum. This was also the inspiration and basis of the first four official state flags that flew between 1879 and 1956. In this proposed version, the flag featured 13 white stars that either recognize the 13 original US colonies/states as well as the 11 States that were either part of and 2 States that were sympathetic to the Comfederate States of America. Inside the circle of stars is the state seal in "Dahlonega Gold". The words "In God We Trust" were placed in the white horizontal stripe. Many heritage-conscious legislators in the General Assembly saw this as a good compromise. The backers of this flag contended that because this flag echoes the original CSA national flag, it would recognize that part of the state's heritage and would not be so offensive to Black Americans as the Confederate Battle Emblem is today.
In keeping with his campaign promise, Governor Purdue pressed the issue to have a referendum that included the 1956 state flag, but found himself having to deal with other matters of state that forced him to use the flag issue as a negotiation point. The Governor was having serious trouble getting the 2003 state budget passed. He felt that was "beyond critical" matter. The Democratic leaders, while not married to the 2001 State Flag felt, as did Civil Rights Leaders, if the 1956 State Flag was placed on the public ballot, there was no doubt it would win the popular vote by a landslide vote.
Governor Perdue found a compromise for both the flag and budget issues. The Governor would get his budget approved in return to agreeing not to place the 1956 state flag on the ballot. The state legislature voted in favor to adopt the new "compromise" flag as the new state flag. Once this was done, the issue was then placed on the next public ballot for final ratification by the electorate in a two-part vote. The first vote asked if the people wanted to keep the current State flag Governor Barnes advocated. The second question/vote was if the flag was to be changed, which flag design did they want?
During the 2004 election in Georgia, the citizens of Georgia voted on the flag issue.While there was a strong faction of people who were disinfranchised and very mad that Governor Perdue agreed to retire the 1956 flag, the new flag was chosen by an overwhelming 4 to 1 majority of the citizens of Georgia.
Prior to its official adoption, the Secretary of State Cathy Cox requested the flag be altered from its original proposal. The size of the proposed flag was a non-standard size that caused a portion of the longer flag to touch the ground (which is deemed insulting to any flag). To correct that, the text "In God We Trust" was moved from the white horizontal stripe to below the state seal.
While the flag issue was officially settled, there
were still a
large number of Georgia citizens that are still upset over what has
transpired and still was a return to the 1956 State flag. Many swore to
work against Governor Perdue's re-election to a second term, however he
won his re-election by a large marjority vote. Just as the Confederate
Battle Flag has become a symbol of revolt or rebellion against the
status quo, now so has the 1956 Georgia State Flag become a similar
In 2003, Roy Barnes received the "Profile in Courage" award by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation specifically for having removed the Confederate Battle Flag from the Georgia State Flag. While he was cheered above the Mason-Dixon line, the majority of Georgians still hold him in contempt of his actions. To me, and I think I speak for a lot of people, it was not the fact that he changed the flag, but rather how he ignored the voice of the vast magority of Georgians that did not want the flag changed.
In 2010, Roy Barnes ran for another term as the Governor of Georgia. He was soundly defeated by Nathan Deal. I'm sure the flag issue was a major contributor to Mr. Barnes defeat.