Southern pride rallies ‘round flag

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In Virginia, black leaders objected to a portrait of Gen. Robert E. Lee as part of a riverfront mural in the former Confederate capital of Richmond. Vandals burned the Lee portrait in January 2000.

In Tennessee, a black man filed a $44 million lawsuit in 1997 seeking removal of a century-old Confederate monument from the town square in Franklin, site of an 1864 battle that killed six Southern generals. U.S. District Judge John T. Nixon dismissed that suit, saying, “There is no federal legislation that prohibits the preservation of Confederate symbols.”

Flaggers’ fight

It’s not just in Dixie. The debate about Confederate heritage has national implications.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination lost steam in Iowa after rivals called attention to Mr. Dean’s claim of wanting “to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks.”

Mr. Dean apologized, but his campaign was dogged until its demise by anti-Dean protesters waving the Southern banner.

Here in Georgia, the same activists who covered the state with Confederate-themed “Boot Barnes” signs in 2002 are putting up “Punt Perdue” signs.

Activists such as Mr. Coleman say the governor reneged on a campaign promise to give voters a choice on returning to the 1956 flag.

Instead, voters in a March referendum could choose only between the “Barnes rag” — as many Georgians derided the 2001 design — and a new design that resembles Georgia’s pre-1956 state flag.

The new design won March 2 with 73 percent of the vote. But leading Confederate heritage groups boycotted the referendum, which drew 20 percent of Georgia’s nearly 4 million registered voters.

With the motto “‘56 or Fight,” diehards known as “flaggers” vowed to defeat Mr. Perdue — and any other politician who gets in their way, Republican or Democrat — until they get a vote on returning to the old flag.

NAACP pressure

For decades, the Confederate history of the South was not a political issue. Tourist shops sold Rebel flags and other Civil War-era souvenirs to visitors, and heritage groups such as SCV and the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) focused their efforts on erecting monuments and preserving historic sites.

That changed after 1991, when the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People adopted a resolution condemning the Confederate battle flag as a symbol of “tyrannical evil” and “an odious blight upon the universe.” The resolution committed the NAACP’s “legal resources to the removal of the Confederate flag from all public properties.”

Legal and political battles over the flag soon commenced in several Southern states — and Confederate heritage groups and politicians say the issue cost some elected officials their jobs:

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