Confederate heritage supporters in Georgia point to the 2001 vote in Mississippi, where the Confederate-themed state flag garnered 65 percent in the statewide referendum, even winning in some majority-black districts.
The vote proved to be an omen for Mr. Musgrove, the Democratic governor who had pushed for changing the flag. Heavy turnout of Republican voters in key counties ensured his defeat in 2002.
“You can’t look at the turnout and say the flag didn’t have an impact,” says David Hampton, editorial page editor of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Mississippi’s largest newspaper.
After the overwhelming response in the referendum, Mr. Hampton says, “I think [the state flag issue is] over for a long time now. … I don’t think there’s going to be any viable political move to change it.”
Like leading newspapers in other Southern states that now regularly oppose Confederate heritage — including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the State newspaper in Columbia, S.C. — the Clarion-Ledger, part of the Gannett chain, editorialized in support of changing the Mississippi flag.
“It was an unpopular position,” Mr. Hampton says of the paper’s stance. “But we considered it important for the state’s image and economic development and still think that’s the right thing for the state.”
In Mississippi, those who advocated changing the state flag warned of economic consequences if their efforts failed. However, a threatened NAACP boycott of Mississippi failed to materialize after the referendum.
John White, communications director of the NAACP, says leaders of the organization’s Mississippi branch opposed a boycott. The NAACP’s tourism boycott of South Carolina remains in force, he says.
“The boycott was not initiated by the national office, but by the state branch, and then approved at the national level,” Mr. White says.
Mr. Sullivant says tourism actually has increased in South Carolina since the NAACP began its boycott.
‘Blood of heroes’
When Georgia legislators voted to keep the 1956 design off the flag referendum this year, Mr. Lathem says, “I tried to warn them if they didn’t listen to us in the General Assembly, they were going to hear from us on the campaign trail.”
Legislators heard from the “flaggers” during the April rally, when their voices echoed through the marble-floored Capitol Rotunda as they sang “The Bonnie Blue Flag”:
Then here’s to our Confederacy, strong we are and brave. Like patriots of old, we’ll fight our heritage to save.
Ron Wilson, SCV’s national commander, argues that Mr. Perdue and other Georgia leaders should learn a lesson from politicians who have opposed Confederate heritage.