Chamblee54

The 1956 Legislature And The Flag

Posted in Georgia History, GSU photo archive by chamblee54 on October 28, 2021

LBCB034-083bz

LBCE6-060az

LBCE7-025az

LBGPNS2-171az

LBGPNS2-171aza

LBGPNS2-171azb

LBGPNS3-213az


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 an edited 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?”

@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.”… “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.

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.”

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 arose. 18 years after the passage of a new flag, people are still arguing over the motives of the 1956 legislature. Pictures today are from “The Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library”. Previous postings of this feature include many details omitted today.
LBP31-103bz

LBPE1-031bz

LBPE2-051cz

LBSCB17-094bz

LBT21-164az

LBSCB17-128bz

LBSCE5-86dz

LBSGP1-001az

LBT22-190az

LBCB011-057ax

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: