ATLANTA — – Is it a symbol of heritage or a symbol of hate? Either way, the Confederate emblem in some Southern states' flags is at the center of a new kind of civil war.
Georgia State Representative Tyrone Brooks, a Democrat from Atlanta, is leading the charge to change Georgia's flag, which contains the Confederate battle flag design that some consider an offensive reminder of the region's history of slavery and segregation.
"This symbol of divisiveness and polarization has got to be put in the archives and museums," said Brooks. "If you want to put it in your yard, that's fine. If you want to hang it in your office — OK. But don't hang it over my capitol."
Brooks and other black leaders in Georgia have threatened to mount an economic boycott of the state if the flag is not changed by the state legislature this session.
But others call the efforts against the Confederate emblem a quest for legitimacy by the groups opposing it.
Allen Trapp, President of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, puts it this way: "The NAACP needed something to rally the troops, something to justify their own existence, and the Confederate symbols are it."
Last year, the NAACP staged a tourism boycott of South Carolina to get the Confederate flag removed from the top of the Capitol dome.
The boycott caused the cancellation of hundreds of meetings and conventions and eventually cost the state more than $20 million in lost revenue.
In July, the flag was taken down from the South Carolina capitol in Columbia and placed elsewhere on the grounds. But that did not satisfy flag opponents. So the marches and the boycotts continued.
In Mississippi, where a similar debate is raging, voters will decide later this year whether the Confederate emblem should be removed from their state flag.
In Georgia, where a vote in the state legislature about the state flag could come this month, not all black leaders are united on the flag issue.
Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young said, "If there ever was a no win issue ... this looks like it."
Young says he couldn't care less if the Georgia flag stays or goes. But he fears a drawn-out flag battle could overshadow other issues.
"I'd hate to see the flag interfere with education, interfere with voting reform," Young said.
Young does not see hate in the Confederate emblem that is a part of Georgia's flag. He sees the cross of St. Andrew, the emblem's Scottish ancestor.
"It stands for the values of courage, truth, and integrity," Young says. "I buy into all those so-called Southern values of the Confederacy — everything but slavery."
He and others say racial reconciliation does not have to hinge on a flag. Many believe a divisive battle over the flag would be counterproductive to black interests and economic prosperity.
With emotions inflamed on both sides, will the flag flap tear these Southern states apart in a battle over a symbol?