Yesterday, the South Carolina State Senate voted overwhelmingly to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the State Capitol. If the House of Representatives passes the measure, the flag could come down within 24 hours of Gov. Nikki Haley signing the bill.
But, here in Georgia, the future of state-sponsored display of Confederate emblems is far less certain.
If you think it’s hard to keep up with Gov. Nathan Deal’s position on the Confederate flag or understand exactly what it is he plans to do about the TWO Confederate flags that now adorn the state-sanctioned speciality license plates benefitting the Sons of Confederate Veterans, you’re right.
We’re providing this handy timeline to help everyone keep up:
- February 18, 2014: When the new plates were issued, Gov. Deal first told the AJC he knew nothing about them:
“I hadn’t heard that so I don’t know anything about it. I’ll have to talk to them about it. I had no information in advance about it.”
- February 26, 2014: Gov. Deal told 11Alive he had no problem with the new plates:
“I don’t think that it is something that we should be that concerned about,” Deal said.
- June 17, 2015: At historic black church in Charleston, nine people were murdered, shot during Wednesday night Bible study, by a 21 year-old white man, simply because they were black. Among the victims was the pastor, a well-known South Carolina state senator.
- June 18, 2015: Media reports began to graphically document the racist views of the killer and his links to white supremacist groups.
- June 22, 2015: Images of the Confederate Battle Flag embraced by a killer determined to “start a race war” inspired South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to publicly acknowledge the pain this symbol of slavery and subrogation causes many and call for it’s removal from public property. She was joined at a news conference by Reince Priebus, Chair of the Republican National Committee, and South Carolina Sens. Lindsey Graham Tim Scott.
- June 23, 2015: Gov. Terry McAuliffe calls for the removal of the Confederate emblem on Virginia vanity plates.
- June 24, 2015: Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley ordered that four Confederate flags be permanently taken down from the grounds of the state capitol.
- June 24, 2015: Gov. Deal summoned reporters to his office and told them that his position on the Confederate flag on official Georgia license plates was unchanged and that he would not support any changes to the license plate.
- June 24, 2015: Within half-an-hour of the AJC publishing Gov. Deal’s initial refusal to support changes to the license plates, the governor summoned reporters back to his office and said that the plates needed to be re-designed, a change that he said would not require legislative action, but said that he needed to consult with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, an organization lead by Charles Kelly Barrow.
- June 26, 2o15: 11Alive reported that Georgia had stopped issuing the plates featuring the Confederate flags and that Deal appointee, Department of Revenue Commissioner Lynne Riley had ordered that that plates be re-designed.
- June 30, 2015: Gov. Deal punted resolution of the issue to the Georgia Legislature and told the AJC that when it comes to Confederate images, we can’t deny our heritage:
“I’m not closing the door on anything. But we have to be cautious that we don’t get caught up on a sweep of emotion here, and fail to recognize the heritage that is associated with these symbols and these holidays,” he said in an interview. “We cannot deny our heritage and the purpose of many of these is to celebrate that heritage. I’m going to be cautious in that regard, and I would hope that everyone else would as well.”
It is, indeed, hard to keep up with Gov. Deal’s position on the Confederate flag. All we know for sure is that Gov. Deal has failed to lead on this issue at at time when leadership is desperately needed.
A recent CNN-ORC poll reveals that attitudes about the Confederate flag fracture along the fault lines of race, challenging elected officials in Southern states, where the emblem is most commonly displayed, to lead by example and stand firmly against government-sanctioned display of a symbol that is deeply offensive to so many.
The CNN-ORC poll showed that while 72% of African Americans view the flag as a symbol of racism, only 25% of white respondents agree. 57% of all polled see the flag as a symbol of Southern pride.
Elected officials like Gov. Nathan Deal, who has a track record of defending the Confederate flag as a symbol of “our heritage,” should see this sharp racial divide as a call for leadership, not as justification for the status quo.
Other conservative leaders have stepped up to do just that.
Just two weeks ago, as we were all just beginning to come to grips with the unspeakable horror of the racially-motivated murder of nine people during Wednesday night Bible study at historic Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, leaders of every political stripe were stepping forward to denounce the Confederate flag as a symbol of racism and oppression.
Prominent republican leaders, who were among the loudest and most unequivocal voices calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State Capitol grounds, included past and current candidates for President.
Gov. Romney called it a “symbol of racial hatred.”
— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) June 20, 2015
Gov. Jeb Bush was more succinct – simply calling the symbol “racist.”
And, yet, Gov. Deal remained mired in the politics of the past, equivocal in his support for removing the symbol that helped inspire the Charleston massacre.
There’s no question that this is the time for real leadership.
That’s why more than 4,000 people have signed Better Georgia’s petition calling on Gov. Deal to remove the Confederate flag from Georgia license plates, but, today, Gov. Deal’s position still remains unclear.
Will a redesign of the vanity plate still include the Confederate flag? At this point, we simply don’t know. There’s no question that Georgia should not use tax dollars to support the display of this tainted symbol of the past, but it is unclear whether the political will and leadership exists in our state to make that happen.
That’s why it’s so important that our elected officials, including Gov. Deal, hear from you.
Robert F. Kennedy once said:
“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
If you’ve not had a chance to add your name to the petition, I hope you will. Your voice can difference in this debate.