ATLANTA – Some 300 supporters of Georgia's old flag with its big Confederate emblem marched to the state Capitol on Tuesday to demand that the new governor and Legislature hold a statewide vote on bringing the banner back.
The current flag, featuring a tiny image of the Confederate emblem, was adopted in 2001 at the behest of Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes. He was defeated in a re-election bid in the fall, and blamed public anger over the new flag.
On the campaign trail, Barnes' successor, Republican Sonny Perdue, criticized Barnes for changing the flag in two days' time without public input, and he called for a referendum. On Tuesday, he said he supports a non-binding public referendum but would leave the details to lawmakers.
Some legislators believe the Georgia Constitution would have to be changed to allow a referendum; others say a non-binding referendum would be permissible.
At the Capitol, supporters of the old flag held up signs that read, "Let Us Vote!" Many wore Confederate uniforms. Three planes flew overhead, carrying signs that read: "SONNY COUNTRY," "LET US VOTE. YOU PROMISED!" and "BARNES WAS JUST A WARM-UP."
"I feel like I've been spit in the face by Perdue," said Dennis Bellew, 56, a stonecutter who said he campaigned for Perdue. "I have a sneaky suspicion we're being betrayed."
At his inauguration Monday, Perdue asked guests not to bring flags, and he did not display the Confederate emblem at his ball. That did not sit well with supporters of the old flag.
Ron Wilson, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said: "Don't back down. Make sure we get a referendum."
The Confederate emblem was added to the Georgia flag in 1956 at the height of Southern segregationist defiance. Supporters of the emblem say it represents Southern heritage, while blacks and others say it represents racism and slavery.