Mar. 7, 2004: Hey, Flaggers! What About the Other 98.5 Percent of Georgia’s History?

Before I launch into my diatribe, a few facts: I was born in Georgia, as were my parents and grandparents and all but one of my great grandparents. Two of my ancestors fought for the South in the War Between the States. There may have been others, but I don’t know. In my family, looking back has never been as important as looking ahead.

Now the diatribe: In the recent nonbinding referendum, Georgia voters by a margin of nearly 4 to 1 approved the current state flag. Call me naïve, but I would have thought the vote might send flaggers a message that Georgians prefer the new flag and want our elected officials to get on to more substantive issues like education, health care and child safety. No such luck. The vote went right over the flaggers’ Confederate caps. To flaggers, looking ahead isn’t as important as being mired in the past.

Following the referendum, Kenneth Waters, a spokesman for the flaggers said, “We do not accept this result as final. We will keep our anger alive. We shall be grim and unconvinced and wear our bitterness like a medal.” (Don’t you know it is a barrel of laughs around the Waters household!) Waters added, “And to all of those elected officials that have worked to deny the people of Georgia a fair vote on the 1956 memorial flag, we the flaggers are coming for you.” I hope they do, because when they get their clocks cleaned by fair-minded, forward-thinking Georgians on Election Day, maybe they will finally shut the hell up.

Sen. Zell Miller, in his best-selling book, “A National Party No More,” talks about his efforts to change the state flag when he was governor. In an address to the Legislature, Miller cited the fact that the State of Georgia was 260 years old. (Today, it is 270.) The governor noted that for 43 years, Georgia was a British colony. For 11 years, it was a sovereign state under the Articles of Confederation. For over 200 years, Georgia has been one of the United States of America. For only four years was the state a part of the Confederate States of America. That is 1.5 percent of Georgia’s history. All of this bullying and posturing and threatening over less than 2 percent of our state’s glorious history? Why don’t flaggers get their britches in a wad over the 43 years we were subjects of the English Crown? At least we won that war.

Flaggers should have been pleased by the recent vote. The current state flag looks very much like the Stars and Bars that represented the Confederate States of America and is similar to the Georgia flag that flew from 1902 to 1956. But the flaggers are unhappy — flaggers are always unhappy — because they say the people of Georgia didn’t get to vote on the change. Guess what, Beauregard? The people of Georgia have never voted on state flag design. It was the Legislature — not a vote of the people — that changed the flag in 1956. The Legislature refused to change the flag in 1994, did change it in 2001 and changed it again in 2003. Three flag changes in 48 years, and all of them coming from legislative action. Why all of a sudden does the Confederate battle flag require a public vote, when the others did not?

The flaggers, who have the political skills of a grapefruit, can’t seem to understand that we want our elected officials to concentrate on the complex issues of the 21st century and to leave the 19th century where it belongs — in the 19th century — and the Confederate battle flag where it belongs — in a museum. The War Between the States is over. The South lost. Get over it.

Unfortunately, we will have to endure the flaggers and their mean-spirited blathering at least until the fall elections. Maybe then we can teach them once and for all that Georgia is a state more focused on its future than on 1.5 percent of its past. It is a lesson that this bunch of irrelevant, backward-looking blowhards badly needs to learn.