The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The state of
Georgia has released a new specialty license tag that features the
Confederate battle flag, inflaming civil rights advocates and renewing a
debate on what images should appear on state-issued materials.
new specialty tag has stirred a clash between those who believe the
battle flag honors Confederate heritage and those, particularly
African-Americans, who view it as a racially charged symbol of
A spokesman for the Southern Christian Leadership
Conference said Tuesday that the state should not have sanctioned the
battle emblem to appear on a Georgia tag.
“To display this is reprehensible,” said Maynard Eaton. “We don’t have license plates saying ‘Black Power.’”
their part, the Georgia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans
said it meant no offense. People have a right to commemorate their
heritage, and the state would be discriminating if it rejected the
group’s application, said spokesman Ray McBerry.
the plate, they are not saying they agree with our organization. They’re
just saying it’s a level playing field,” he said.
Vehicle Division of the state Department of Revenue, approves proposed
designs for specialty plates. It did not respond to questions from The
Atlanta Journal-Constitution about what criteria it uses in making those
determinations, except to say, via email, that they cannot violate
Gov. Nathan Deal said the new tag was a surprise to him.
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,” said Deal,
who last month vowed to a Ebenezer Baptist Church congregation that he
would give Martin Luther King Jr. a more prominent place on state
In a related context — applications for vanity
plates submitted by individuals — Georgia law charges the motor vehicle
agency with exercising discretion when it comes to racially sensitive
matters. The law prohibits vanity plates judged to ridicule any race or
The state also denied a 2012 request by a Ku Klux Klan
chapter to “adopt” a highway in north Georgia to help clean it. The
chapter then sued the state.
The new Confederate flag plate
replaces one that was already in circulation. The new design places the
St. Andrew’s flag in the background across the entire tag. Like the old
plate, it also features the flag in the square logo of the Sons of
Confederate Veterans. It adds the organization’s name across the bottom
of the tag, where the name of the issuing county typically appears.
state sold a total of 439 of the earlier version in the last two years.
There are 35 orders already for the new tag, according to the Revenue
The cost of the tag is $80. Ten dollars from the fee
goes to the Georgia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The
group said it uses the money to promote education efforts and
preservation of statues, monuments and other historic items.
aroused by the Confederate flag remain a potent force in Georgia
politics. When Gov. Roy Barnes brought down the 1956 state flag, which
had the emblem as its centerpiece, the backlash contributed to Sonny
Perdue’s surprise election as governor.
Elsewhere, states that
joined the Confederacy have taken different postures in regard to the
symbol. North Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi have specialty license
tags that include it. Texas’ rejected an application to issue one, on
the grounds that it would offend many residents.
Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans sued board members of the
Texas motor vehicle agency, and the case remains in the courts.
of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, was unfazed by the renewed
controversy over the battle flag. “We believe that everyone has the
right to preserve their heritage,” he said. “Southerners have as much
right to be proud of their heritage as anybody else.”
the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said issuance of the tag
confirms his belief that the state government is indifferent to the 31
percent of residents who are black.
“It’s a slap in the face,” he said.