Columnist: Confederate flag continues its controversial legacy, part 2

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 29, 2015

Editor’s note: Columnist Glenn Dowell in the Weekend edition shared his opinion about how the Confederate flag has been appropriated by hate groups, much like the swastika, and turned into a negative symbol. Today he continues his thoughts on the use of the Confederate flag and symbols by states. Popular Georgia governor loses re-election over flag Most in this country take our American flag very seriously. It typically evokes powerful emotions of love and respects for the rights of others without our own being abridged or violated. Individual states are given the latitude to determine what kind of flag they will fly over their state capitols. Five states currently incorporate Confederate symbols into their flags. They are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida – whose flag resembles that of Alabama – Georgia and Mississippi. Attempt to remove the Confederate symbols from the flags in these states as a governor, and the voters can turn against you. This is exactly what happened to Georgia’s former, popular governor Roy Barnes in 2002. Voters who went to the polls in 2002 did not care about Barnes’ popularity, they were outraged that he had changed the state’s Confederate flag. Cecil Alexander, a prominent Atlanta architect at the time, was key to the design of a new flag for Georgia under Barnes. Mr. Alexander, who is Jewish, and I served on Atlanta’s Black/Jewish Coalition – a collection of community stakeholders who collaborated on issues of mutual importance that impacted blacks and Jews. His design minimized the Confederate battle insignia – Southern cross – on the flag. On July 30, 2001, with Gov. Roy Barnes’ support, the Georgia Senate in a vote of 34-22 approved Alexander’s flag. Changing the flag was done essentially to appease blacks and to prevent them from organizing an economic boycott of the state, which had occurred, ironically, in South Carolina. Legislators attempting to appease blacks in South Carolina simply moved the flag on July 1, 2000, from the state house to the Capitol lawn. Political pundits in response to Barnes’ loss at the time stated, “The Confederate flag is still a very powerful symbol. A lot of white voters felt Barnes was not on their side when he pushed to change it.” The governor who defeated him appeased his supporters on May 8, 2003, with a new flag during his term in office. Ironies and contradictions related to the confederate flag If the Confederate flag does not symbolize intolerance for other races, which include hatred and racism, why has it been appropriated by groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups? This is the question that is always asked by the Southern Poverty Law Center in response to those who embrace the Confederate flag. The nonprofit center operates out of Montgomery, Alabama, and combat groups like the Klan utilizing education and litigation. There are some obvious fallacies relating to the Confederate flag. It was not the national flag of the Confederacy. The Confederacy changed its flag three times during the course of the Civil War. Another misconception is that the flag was flown uninterrupted since the Civil War. The fact of the matter is that Southern states, for the most part, incorporated the flag into their state flags during the tumultuous 1950s and 1960s in protest and defiance against integration. Is the name Denmark Groover familiar to you? If you like or dislike the flag, you should be familiar with Groover’s contribution to the flag issue in Georgia. He was the Georgia house floor leader under Gov. Marvin Griffin who ran for office as a staunch segregationist. Groover in 1956 sponsored the legislation to incorporate the Southern cross into the state’s flag. He is alleged to have admitted at the time that he and other Georgia legislators supported the addition of the symbol as a protest against federal integration orders. You know what? In 2001, 45 years later, Groover again stepped into the flag controversy. This time, however, his tune was different. He sang to all who would listen that the Confederate flag was divisive and should be taken down. What do you really think? Is the Confederate flag really used by those who have an intolerance for other ethnic or racial groups? Does it really divide us? You be the judge. Contributing columnist Glenn Dowell is an author and LaGrange native who currently lives in Jonesboro. He may be reached at