Why Did The 1956 Legislature Change The Flag?

Posted in Georgia History, GSU photo archive, History, Politics, Race by chamblee54 on October 22, 2020








What Stacey Abrams said about burning the Georgia flag in 1992 The New York Times decided to show a picture of a younger, slimmer Stacey Abrams burning the Georgia state flag. The year was 1992. The state flag had the Confederate battle flag embedded. People were asking the legislature to change that. Miss Abrams was a student activist. This is a repost.

The NYT article sparked a twitter dogpile, about the motives of the Georgia legislature in 1956. PG remembers 1993, when the initial proposal to change the flag was made. Changing The Flag is an account of those years. If you have a minute, you should read that post before going any further. The people who wanted to change the flag introduced an argument. They said that the legislature changed the flag, in 1956, as a protest against integration. PG never believed that. One afternoon in 1994, PG found a newspaper article that supported his point of view. After that, PG did not think much about the issue. The flag was changed in 2000 and 2003.

The issue has a few shades of gray. The reason given in 1956 was honoring the Confederacy. In 1993, the 1956 legislature was said to be protesting integration. The emotions of honoring the Confederacy, and denouncing integration, are not entirely separate. Many of the same people, who are proud of the Confederacy, are white supremacists. To an outsider, they can seem like the same thing. PG can understand how someone not familiar with Georgia could mistake the two.

The debate, over the motive of the 1956 legislature, was never necessary. The flag, featuring the Confederate battle flag, was seen as a symbol of racism. Many people were offended by this flag. Why not just say we should change the flag for this reason, and not worry what the legislature was thinking? However, this was not good enough. People needed some more ammunition for their fight. The notion that the flag was changed as a protest against desegregation was born. PG never heard, before 1993, that the flag was changed as a protest against integration. People believed this notion without any evidence, just because somebody said so. 1994 was 38 years after 1956. Very few people in 1994 were active in 1956. The argument in favor of the changed-to-protest-integration notion had two parts: (1) Because I said so, (2) if you disagree you are a racist idiot.

@KevinMKruse No, she burned the old *Georgia* flag, which had been designed specifically by white supremacists as a show of defiance to desegregation in 1956. Let’s dig in. @chamblee54 The Flag was not changed as a protest against desegregation. Changing The Flag @KevinMKruse I literally wrote a book on this, but congratulations on finding a blog post. @chamblee54 I wrote the blog post. If you read the post, you will see I did research. Did anyone say at the time that the new flag was a protest? Do you have a link to this?

@jdtitan Luther, would you say you’re a racist idiot, or more of a stupid racist? @whoopityscoot Hahahahahahah. I just read your blog post. Sir, you are a moron. @ashleystollar That’s like saying the Civil War wasn’t fought over slavery. @Duranti “emotional pride for the traitors to America” @The_SquidProQuo You found one old newspaper article and felt compelled to argue the point huh? Stupid is a hell of a drug. @theDiff_Kenneth I read your blog post and I would like that 10 minutes of my life back. Your “evidence” was an announcement article that supported the flag change and omitted any overtly racist comments. Your writing style is close to unreadable and your investigative skills do not exist. @kingbuzz0 If you ever find yourself in the position of arguing of (insert subject) in the South had nothing to do with (insert stand in for outright racism), you have a bad argument. It’s all racism, always, every time.

@JoshCStephenso You found a single article? Maybe you would trust a paper written by the Deputy Director of the Georgia Senate Research Office – a chamber that is majority R? This tweet was helpful. The report was written in 2000, before the a new flag was driven through the legislature. If you have the time to read the complete report, it is worth your time. If not, a few quotes will be posted here, along with a few helpful comments.

The first Confederate flag looked a great deal like the Union flag. In early battles of the war, the two flags were often confused. “The commanding Confederate officer at the Battle of Bull Run, General P.T.G. Beauregard, determined that a single distinct battle flag was needed for the entire Confederate army. Confederate Congressman William Porcher Miles recommended a design incorporating St. Andrew’s Cross.”… “The St. Andrew’s Cross – the flag’s distinctive feature – had its origin in the flag of Scotland, which King James I of England combined with St. George’s Cross to form the Union Flag of Great Britain. It is believed that St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland since A.D. 750. and brother of the apostle Peter, was crucified by his persecutors upon a cross in the shape of an “X” in A.D. 60. White southerners, many of whom traced their ancestry to Scotland, very easily related to this Christian symbol.” “Other flags such as State regimental colors were used by the Confederacy on the battlefield, but the battle flag, although it was never officially recognized by the Confederate government, came to represent the Confederate army.”

At first, use of the battle flag was restricted to historic events. It wasn’t until the fifties that the flag began to be used by those who fought integration. In 1954, Brown vs. Board of Education was handed down by the Supreme Court, ordering the integration of schools. The Georgia legislature went into resistance mode, and spent a lot of time denouncing integration. The senate research office devotes page after page to these efforts. Finally, “In early 1955, John Sammons Bell, chairman of the State Democratic Party … suggested a new state flag for Georgia that would incorporate the Confederate Battle Flag. At the 1956 session of the General Assembly, state senators Jefferson Lee Davis and Willis Harden introduced Senate Bill 98 to change the state flag. Signed into law on February 13, 1956, the bill became effective the following July 1.”

“Little information exists as to why the flag was changed, there is no written record of what was said on the Senate and House floors or in committee and Georgia does not include a statement of legislative intent when a bill is introduced – SB 98 simply makes reference to the “Battle Flag of the Confederacy.” … “Many defenders of the flag, including former governor Ernest Vandiver, who served as the Lieutenant Governor in 1956, have attempted to refute the belief that the battle flag was added in defiance of the Supreme Court rulings. Vandiver, in a letter to the Atlanta Constitution, insisted that the discussion on the bill centered around the coming centennial of the Civil War and that the flag was meant to be a memorial to the bravery, fortitude and courage of the men who fought and died on the battlefield for the Confederacy.”

This is where it gets murky. It is apparent that the legislature was obsessed with integration. The circumstantial evidence, of the flag being changed as a protest of integration, is there. However, there is no smoking gun. There are no apparent statements, from 1956, saying that this change was made to protest integration. This detail seems to have sprung up in 1993, without having been widely mentioned in the 37 years since 1956. The newspaper article PG found does not mention a protest against integration, and does mention a desire to honor the Confederacy.

“The argument that the flag was changed in 1956 in preparation for the approaching Civil War centennial appears to be a retrospective or after-the-fact argument. In other words, no one in 1956, including the flag’s sponsors, claimed that the change was in anticipation of the coming anniversary. Those who subscribe to this argument have adopted it long after the flag had been changed.” This is contradicted by the newspaper article, and statements by “Governor Griffin’s floor leader, Representative Denmark Groover … “anything we in Georgia can do to preserve the memory of the Confederacy is a step forward.” As for the after-the-fact argument, you could say the same thing about the notion that the flag was changed as a protest against integration.

“There was also some opposition to the change from the state’s many newspapers. The North Georgia Tribune argued that: “….There is little wisdom in a state taking an official action which would incite its people to lose patriotism in the U.S.A. or cast a doubt on that part of the Pledge of Allegiance which says ‘one nation, unto God, indivisible…’ So far as we are concerned, the old flag is good enough. We dislike the spirit which hatched out the new flag, and we don’t believe Robert E. Lee…would like it either” “The Atlanta Constitution also thought that the flag change was unnecessary for the simple fact that “there has been no recorded dissatisfaction with the present flag.” The newspaper article PG found in 1994 was from the Constitution. Even though they were opposed to the change, they did not attribute this change to a desire to protest integration.

“When the flag change was first proposed, it received resistance from groups that one would think would have highly favored the change – various Confederate organizations including the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). “They made the change strictly against the wishes of UDC chapters from all the states that form our organization,” said Ms. Forrest E. Kibler, legislative chairwoman of the Georgia UDC. … The Executive Board of the Georgia Division of UDC had passed a resolution on January 11, 1956 opposing the proposed changes to the flag, citing that the Confederate battle flag belonged to all the Confederate States – not merely to Georgia – and placing it on the Georgia flag would cause strife. … Also opposing the new flag was the John B. Gordon Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. This group protested against all uses of the battle flag except in commemoration of the Confederacy, or by the official use of the Daughters of the Confederacy, the Sons of the Confederacy, and the Children of the Confederacy.” This opposition was touched on in the newspaper article. This is one of the more confusing aspects of this affair.

“While many questioned the political and philosophical motives of the flag change, there were others who considered the change to be an unnecessary expense that would burden taxpayers, since Georgia law required every public school, and all public institutions to fly the state flag. In voting “no,” Representative Mackay said that the present flag was “a symbol of sacred memory” and that “the change puts every flag owner in Georgia to unnecessary expense.” Alleviating the financial concerns of many, sponsors of the bill pointed out that those institutions required to fly the new flag will replace the old flag with the new one only as present flags wear out. Questions were also raised on whether anyone had a copyright on the flag design which would entitle them to royalties – a charge denied by John Sammons Bell and Representative Groover.”

John Sammons Bell is a name that keeps coming up. From 1954 to 1960, Mr. Bell was Chairman of the State’s Democratic Party. He was, by all accounts, an enthusiastic segregationist. One of the jaw dropping moments in the senate report was this: “Bell, a one-time supporter of Governor Ellis Arnall, once had the reputation of being a “liberal” on race issues.”

When the state senate report was issued, in 2000 (6 years after PG found the newspaper article, and dropped out of the argument,) Mr. Bell had a few comments. “He wanted to forever perpetuate the memory of the Confederate soldier who fought and died for his state and that the purpose of the change was “to honor our ancestors who fought and died and who have been so much maligned.” He has also argued that the flag was not redesigned in reaction to and in defiance of the 1954 Brown decision… “Absolutely nothing could be further from the truth … every bit of it is untrue. ”

“On March 9, 1993, (Denmark) Groover moved many Georgians when he stood in the House well to address his colleagues on the subject of the state flag. In an emotional speech, he acknowledged that the flag is offensive to some and conceded that, “I cannot say to you that I personally was in no way motivated by a desire to defy. I can say in all honesty that my willingness was in large part because … that flag symbolized a willingness of a people to sacrifice their all for their beliefs.” Mr. Groover offered a compromise, which included a smaller version of the battle flag. A flag similar to that was adopted in 2000, only to be changed again in 2003.

To sum up, the Georgia state flag was changed in 1956. The new flag contained the Confederate battle flag. Many people were offended by the 1956 flag. PG thought it was ugly. Many others saw it, with some justification, as a symbol of racism. For some reason, speculation about the motives of the 1956 legislature. 18 years after the passage of a new flag, people are still arguing over the motives of the 1956 legislature. Pictures for this gratuitous waste of bandwidth are from “The Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library”. .










One Response

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  1. shimon meyerson said, on November 14, 2020 at 10:49 pm

    well hellow there

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