How and why the Georgia state flag has changed over the years

There have been more than six flags over Georgia.

There have been seven, to be as exact as possible on this subject, as one was unofficial and several of the early flags periodically had unofficial alterations.

The history of the Georgia flag begins in antebellum times and reached a fiery crescendo in 1956, when a staunchly segregationist General Assembly installed the Confederate battle flag, the St. Andrew's cross, on the official banner.

Georgia's first, unofficial, flag was blue with the state's coat of arms in the center in yellow. The coat of arms is the three-columned arch containing the state motto of "wisdom, justice, moderation" that is at the center of the state's official seal.


In 1879, the General Assembly adopted the state's first official flag. It had a vertical blue bar down the entire left side with three horizontal bars -- red, white and red -- on the right side. It was, as is today's flag, reminiscent of the national flag of the Confederacy. The legislation creating the flag was introduced by state Sen. Herman Perry, a former colonel in the Confederate army.


In 1902, lawmakers added the state coat of arms to the blue field on the left. Some versions of the flag included a banner beneath the coat of arms with "Georgia" emblazoned on it, but that addition is not included in the legislation creating it.


In 1920, the General Assembly replaced the coat of arms with the entire state seal. That flag survived until the mid-1950s, when racial tensions were inflamed by the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education and segregationist sentiments boiled under the Gold Dome.


One of the sponsors of the legislation creating the new flag was Sen. Jefferson Lee Davis.

In addition to that legislation, which would replace the three horizontal bars on the right of the flag with the Confederate battle flag, legislators introduced measures that would close all state public schools, lease them to private entities and provide state grants for children to attend those schools, which would be segregated. The plan would allow teachers at these private schools to be brought under the state teachers' retirement plan.

Other measures would have done essentially the same thing with public parks, swimming pools and other public facilities, which would also remain segregated.

In his state of the state address in January of that year, Gov. Marvin Griffin declared, "There will be no mixing of the races in the public schools and college classrooms of Georgia anywhere or at any time as long as I am governor. All attempts to mix the races, whether they be in the classrooms, on the playgrounds, in public conveyances or in any other area of close personal contact on terms of equity, peril the mores of the South."

Griffin's floor leader, Rep. Denmark Groover, who would serve for decades in the House of Representatives, said the new flag "would leave no doubt in anyone's mind that Georgia will not forget the teachings of Lee and Stonewall Jackson, and that this will show that we in Georgia intend to uphold what we stood for, will stand for, and will fight for ... anything we in Georgia can do to preserve the memory of the Confederacy is a step forward."


Almost half a century later, when Gov. Roy Barnes was fighting to replace that flag, Groover, then 79 and in ill health, said the '56 flag was at least in part a reaction to Brown vs. Board of Education and he urged lawmakers to support Barnes' effort.

That was in 2001, when Barnes managed to garner enough support behind the scenes to, if not remove the St. Andrew's cross, then reduce it to practically a thumbnail size. That legislation passed swiftly and was signed into law, and the divisive 1956 flag was taken down.

That flag, which would be the shortest-lived of Georgia flags, was blue with the state seal in the center above a banner carrying American and Georgia flags, including the '56 flag with its Confederate battle flag.


Barnes lost his bid for reelection, in part because of anger over the flag change, and his successor, Gov. Sonny Perdue, pushed through a bill in 2003 to replace Barnes' flag with the one that flies today, which closely resembles the national flag of the Confederacy.

It has the red-white-red horizontal bars with a blue field in the top left corner, which has the state coat of arms surrounded by 13 stars and above the words "In God We Trust."

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