Talk of the Town - A flag for everybody? August 19 2000

Georgia banner befouls the breezes across our state

The time has come for Gov. Roy Barnes to take an affirmative stance to change, once and for all, the Confederate battle emblem on the state's flag --no ifs, ands or buts. Barnes must unequivocally speak out and make it perfectly clear that the symbol separates Georgians and that, if we don't change it, the controversy will wreak havoc on the state's economy and image. Although the Georgia General Assembly won't convene for another five months, Barnes must begin now to set the tone for the debate. He needs to call a press conference and say, "It's time for the flag to go"

This governor has a great deal of goodwill with members of the Legislature. He has shown his ability to pass legislation and twist arms. He did it for education reform, he did it for health-care reform. Now he must do it regarding the St. Andrew's cross and stars on the Georgia flag. He owes it to us all and especially to his strongest base of voters: African Americans.

A year from now, if action is not taken, we'll deserve what we get: the scorn of the nation, economic boycotts, and a resounding "no" from big sporting events and conventions. What lies ahead, if decisive action is not taken now, is turmoil, discontent and a storm of protest.

While the governor should be looked upon to give moral leadership, the focus on two other prominent politicos — House Speaker Tom Murphy and Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor — can't be overlooked. Murphy depends largely on the Legislative Black Caucus and urban legislators to maintain the longest-standing speakership in the country. Taylor wouldn't be where he is today without the black vote.

Likewise, in this year's statewide election for the U.S. Senate, Zell Miller and Mack Mattingly can't be let off the hook, either. Miller, who courageously attempted to change the flag in 1993, has been virtually mum on the issue since; he needs to make it clear where he stands. As for Mattingly, this might be a good opportunity to score a few points as one of these cuddly new "inclusive" Republicans who debuted their feel-good party in Philadelphia by stating his support for change.

Both could do us all a service by vowing to retire this symbol of racism as an ugly part of a fading past.

Then there are the presidential candidates. Remember the South Carolina primary, where George W. Bush boldly refused to climb off the fence? He declined to take a position on the flying of the Confederate flag over the state Capitol. Dubya now has a chance to redeem himself and "leave no child behind." But will he? Al Gore has said he believes the flag should go, but will he make the flag issue a part of his campaign speeches in Georgia? He should.

The time has come to put real leadership to a test. This time to equivocate is over: We all know the arguments in this over-extended debate. Starting with Gov. Barnes, Speaker Murphy and Lt. Gov. Taylor, the call for a vote to change the flag needs to begin today. This doesn't need to be a partisan issue. While courage is necessary by our political leaders, the moral indignation of flying a flag that screeches out racial hatred and division should spur us all to clamor for a new banner.

?HOUCKLINE: Call, 404-614-1886; e-mail, thouck@mindspring.com

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