ATLANTA – A new state flag without the Confederate emblem (search) was raised over the Capitol on Thursday after a redesign aimed at laying to rest a dispute that inflamed race relations and roiled Georgia politics.
As the old flag came down, drivers slowed their cars to watch and there were scattered cheers and boos from a crowd on the Capitol lawn.
"This is a historic day in Georgia and I didn't want my daughter to miss out on it," said Lateshia Jackson, a black woman who brought her 6-year-old Nikki to the flag raising. "The process worked and these redneck holdouts can carry all the signs and boo all they want to. It's a good day for me, my daughter and some lost sanity in Georgia."
The new flag went up immediately after Gov. Sonny Perdue (search) signed a bill to replace an unpopular design adopted in 2001.
The 2001 flag was a blue banner that contained a small Confederate emblem along the lower edge. It succeeded Georgia's 1956 flag, which was dominated by a large Confederate emblem that was added by the Legislature at the height of Southern resistance to integration.
The brand-new flag that was hoisted Thursday contains the Georgia coat of arms and the words "In God We Trust" on a blue field in the top left corner, with three red-and-white stripes to the right.
Georgia voters will pick between the new flag and the 2001 flag in a referendum next March. Few give the old flag any chance to win.
Many groups had lobbied for Perdue to veto the bill, but the governor said it would be in the state's best interest to move on.
The 2001 flag was pushed through by Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes (search) after a similar controversy in South Carolina led to an economic boycott directed by the NAACP. But the 2001 flag was never popular, and its busy blue banner with a huge state seal was voted the nation's ugliest by a group of flag experts.
Perdue, Georgia's first Republican governor in more than a century, ousted Barnes in November after promising to let people vote on the flag's design.
As governor, Perdue proposed a vote that included the 1956 flag as an option, but in the end, that didn't happen. After months of arguing — and a threat of an economic boycott by black groups — lawmakers drew up a new flag instead.
The compromise angered supporters of the 1956 flag, including about a dozen who stood outside the Capitol on Thursday to protest the new flag.
"All we got was another politician's rag," said Tim Pilgrim, a protester from Smyrna. "There's no real referendum here. It's just a slap in the face, and we've been betrayed again. Congratulations, Georgia — here comes rag No. 2."
Perdue said he would have liked to give Georgians more options on which flag to choose.
"I can understand the disillusionment of those who have worked for a referendum on the post-1956 flag," he said. "I have consistently said that the citizens of Georgia deserve the opportunity to vote on their state flag. Despite its limitations, this bill meets that requirement."
Perdue said he would have voted for the pre-1956 Georgia flag, which is similar to the new flag. He said he does not fear political retaliation from Southern heritage supporters during the next election.
"Good, well-meaning people could and do have opposite views on the flag," he said. "That doesn't make one group morally superior to another."
By late summer, 25,000 of the new flags are expected to be on display at schools, fire stations and other government buildings across the state.