For that reason, it’s disheartening to see the controversy that has erupted over a specialty license plate that the Georgia Department of Revenue recently approved for Peach State motorists. It was completely avoidable.
Unfortunately, revenue department officials who were asleep at the switch recently gave their blessing to a new tag that shows a large Confederate battle flag in the background, covering the entire plate.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans, a heritage group, sought the change. The new tag replaces an older specialty tag that includes the group’s official emblem, which incorporates a smaller version of the battle flag.
It’s unclear why the Sons sought the gaudier tag. The old one was tasteful and respectful. It allowed members of the organization to show their pride in their heritage, while not offending those who are understandably offended by what the battle flag has sometimes symbolized — hate and division.
That’s critical. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, racist groups like the Ku Klux Klan hijacked the battle flag. It became part of their brand. So while some Georgians look at this flag and see honor and self-sacrifice, others see pure malevolence. Both observations are correct.
More puzzling is why Revenue Commissioner Douglas J. MacGinnitie, a seemingly intelligent bureaucrat, would approve a more strident, in-your-face version of the state tag. A state tag isn’t a bumper sticker. It’s an official statement of state government.
The commissioner must not remember the painful — but necessary — effort a dozen years ago to remove the battle flag from Georgia’s state flag. It helped cost a sitting governor, Roy Barnes, a second term in 2002. This change righted a wrong that occurred in 1956, when lawmakers added the battle flag at a time when many white Southerners felt threatened by the growing civil rights movement.
No one in their right mind wants to revisit that era, stir up dormant passions or needlessly divide Georgians — especially Gov. Nathan Deal, who’s running for re-election this year.
Deal said he wasn’t aware that MacGinnitie, one of his appointees, approved a flashier tag that has angered groups like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
“I’ll have to talk to them about it,” Deal said. We hope he does.
We also hope he orders a re-do.
If anything, the newer tag design is redundant. It duplicates an image that’s already on the tag.
But if MacGinnitie wants to ramp things up for the Sons, then he should endorse the official Confederate flag for the tag’s background. This flag, known as the Stars and Bars, was incorporated into Georgia’s state flag in 2003.
More importantly, it shows the proper respect for history.