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Southern pride rallies ‘round flag
In 1992, Alabama state Rep. Alvin Holmes filed a lawsuit seeking removal of the Confederate flag from atop the state Capitol in Montgomery, where it had flown since being raised in 1963 by Gov. George C. Wallace. When a state district judge ruled in Mr. Holmes’ favor, Gov. Jim Folsom, a Democrat, refused to appeal. The flag came down in 1993. Mr. Folsom lost his re-election bid the next year.
In 1993, Georgia Gov. Zell Miller pushed to have the Confederate emblem removed from the state flag, but the measure failed in the General Assembly. Mr. Miller, a Democrat who had been elected in 1990 with a margin of more than 120,000 votes, squeaked to re-election in 1994 by about 30,000 votes. He dropped the flag issue, later saying “the people were not with me. … You can’t lead if you don’t have followers.”
In Mississippi, where the Confederate battle emblem has been part of the state flag since 1894, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, a Democrat, promoted a proposal to change the flag. Voters rejected the new design supported by Mr. Musgrove, voting 2-to-1 in an April 2001 referendum to keep the Confederate-themed flag. In November 2002, Mr. Musgrove lost his race for re-election to Republican Haley Barbour, who campaigned with a state-flag pin in his lapel.
Not ‘over’ yet
Perhaps the most bitter flag fight erupted in South Carolina. The NAACP first threatened an economic boycott in 1994 unless the Confederate flag was removed from the Statehouse dome, where it had flown since 1962. The state Senate voted to move the flag to a nearby Confederate monument, but the state House rejected the measure in June 1994.In November 1996, South Carolina Gov. David Beasley — a Republican who had promised during his 1994 campaign to keep the flag on the dome — went on statewide TV to urge that the flag come down. The legislature rejected the proposal, and Mr. Beasley was defeated for re-election in 1998 by Democrat Jim Hodges, who promised not to revive the flag issue.
The NAACP announced a boycott of South Carolina in January 2000, prompting the legislature to approve moving the flag to the Confederate monument. Mr. Hodges signed the measure in May of that year.
Two years later, after declaring “the issue is over,” Mr. Hodges was defeated in his re-election bid by Republican Mark Sanford.
After years of debate, some say Southerners have grown weary of battles over Confederate heritage.
“A lot of voters in Georgia are just tired of the issue,” says Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta. “It’s not a live issue anymore in Georgia politics. No Republican or Democratic elected official is interested in fighting this fight all over again.”
In South Carolina, “most people here regard [the Confederate flag issue] as ancient history,” Republican campaign strategist Richard Quinn says.
“The majority of our citizens like the Confederate flag where it is, at the Confederate soldiers’ monument, and don’t want to see that old issue resurrected,” says Mr. Quinn, a consultant for Mr. Beasley’s failed bid to fill the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, a Democrat.
On voters’ minds
Mr. Quinn says the legislature’s 2000 flag vote showed Mr. Beasley had “the courage to do the right thing,” and that the “state has come around to embracing his views.”
Yet anti-Beasley demonstrators waving the Confederate flag showed up at most of the former governor’s campaign appearances — “usually only three or four of ‘em,” Mr. Quinn says — and clearly some voters were not ready to forgive and forget.
By Joy Overbeck
Redemption by government is futile
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