|Name||Georgia Stars and Bars|
|Use||Civil and state flag|
|Adopted||May 8, 2003|
|Design||Three stripes consisting of red, white, red. A blue canton containing a ring of 13 stars encompassing the state's coat of arms in gold|
The current flag of the state of Georgia was adopted on May 8, 2003. The flag bears three stripes consisting of red-white-red, and a blue canton containing a ring of 13 white stars encompassing the state's coat of arms in gold. In the coat of arms, the arch symbolizes the state's constitution and the pillars represent the three branches of government: legislative, executive, and judicial. The words of the state motto, "Wisdom, Justice, and Moderation", are wrapped around the pillars, guarded by a male figure dressed in colonial attire dating back to the time of the American Revolutionary War. Within the arms, a sword is drawn to represent the defense of the state's constitution. An additional motto, In God We Trust, is positioned underneath these elements acting as the state's "foundation". The ring of stars that encompass the state's coat of arms symbolize Georgia's status as one of the original Thirteen Colonies. The design principle is based on the first national flag of the Confederacy, which was nicknamed the "Stars and Bars".
I pledge allegiance to the Georgia Flag and to the principles for which it stands: Wisdom, Justice, and Moderation.-- Pledge of allegiance to the Georgia state flag
Before 1879, the state lacked an official state flag, though an 1861 law (during the American Civil War) required that militia units deployed outside the state be provided with regimental flags including the state coat of arms and the name of the regiment. The state code gave no information about colors.
The 1879 flag was introduced by Georgia state senator Herman H. Perry and was adopted to memorialize Confederate soldiers during the American Civil War. Perry was a former colonel in the Confederate army during the war, and he presumably based the design of the flag on the first national flag of the Confederacy, also known as the "Stars and Bars," which it resembled. Over the following decades, the flag was changed by adding, and then changing, the charge (emblem) on the vertical blue band on the hoist of the flag (that is, the side nearest to the flagpole). The original 1879 design featured a blank, solid blue band.
A 1902 amendment to the state militia laws added the state's coat of arms to the blue band, though a 2000 research report by the Georgia Senate states that researchers were not aware of any surviving flags depicting the coat of arms directly on the blue band, suggesting that no such flag was ever actually produced. Instead, no later than 1904, the coat of arms began to be depicted on a white shield, possibly with a gold outline. This version also added a red ribbon with the word "GEORGIA" below the shield. Examples of this modified version were discovered by the Senate researchers.
Some flag manufacturers included the year 1799 in the coat of arms, as in the state seal; the seal had been adopted in that year. In 1914, the General Assembly changed the year to 1776, the year of the United States Declaration of Independence from the United Kingdom.
At some point, the coat of arms began to be replaced with the state seal. The Senate report indicates this happened sometime in the 1910s or 1920s, and may have been connected to the 1914 change in the state seal's date and the need to conform newly produced flags to that change. The report notes that the first official state publication to use the seal instead of the coat of arms was the 1927 Georgia Official Register, which used a color version of the seal, adding that various versions of the seal were used on flags during this era, until a new drawing was prescribed in the 1950s.
The Georgia state flag that was used from 1956 to 2001 featured a prominent Confederate battle flag and was designed by Southern Democrat John Sammons Bell, a World War II veteran and an attorney who was an outspoken supporter of segregation.
The 1956 flag was adopted in an era when the Georgia General Assembly "was entirely devoted to passing legislation that would preserve segregation and white supremacy", according to a 2000 research report by the Georgia Senate. There are few, if any, written records of what was said on the Georgia House and Senate floors when the 1956 flag bill was being introduced and passed by the Georgia legislature, nor does Georgia law provide for a statement of legislative intent when a bill is introduced, although former U.S. Congressman James Mackay, one of the 32 House members who opposed the change, later stated, "There was only one reason for putting the flag on there: like the gun rack in the back of a pickup truck, it telegraphs a message." Additionally, the 2000 report concluded that the "1956 General Assembly changed the state flag" during "an atmosphere of preserving segregation and resentment" to the U.S. government's rulings on integration.
The 2000 report states that the people who had supported the flag's change in the 1950s said, in recalling the event years later, that "the change was made in preparation for the Civil War centennial, which was five years away; or that the change was made to commemorate and pay tribute to the Confederate veterans of the Civil War." Bell, who designed the 1956 flag and supported its adoption during the 1950s as a defense of the state's "institutions", which at the time included segregation, claimed years later that he did so to honor Confederate soldiers. The 2000 report states that the claims that the flag was ostensibly changed in 1956 to honor Confederate soldiers came much later after the flag's adoption, in an attempt by the change's supporters to backtrack from prior support of segregationism in an era where it was no longer fashionable, saying that the "argument that the flag was changed in 1956 in preparation for the approaching Civil War centennial appears to be a retrospective or after-the-fact argument" and that "no one in 1956, including the flag's sponsors, claimed that the change was in anticipation of the coming anniversary".
At the time, opposition to changing the flag came from various sides, including from Confederate historical groups like the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). Opponents to a change of the flag stated that incorporating the Confederate battle flag into the design would be too sectionalist, counterproductive, and divisive, saying that people should show patriotism towards the United States rather than the defunct Confederacy, referring to the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance, which states that the U.S. was "one nation" and "indivisible". Opponents to the flag's change also said that there was nothing wrong with the 1920 flag and that people were content with it. Others opposed changing the flag out of the burden it would place on those who would have to purchase a new flag to replace the outdated one.
The 2000 Georgia senate report and other critics have interpreted the adoption of the 1956 flag as a symbol of racist protest, citing legislation passed in 1956 which included bills rejecting Brown v. Board of Education and pro-segregationist comments by then-Governor Marvin Griffin, such as "The rest of the nation is looking to Georgia for the lead in segregation."
Political pressure for a change in the official state flag increased during the 1990s, in particular during the run-up to the 1996 Olympic Games that were held in Atlanta. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) focused on the Georgia flag as a major issue and some business leaders in Georgia felt that the perceptions of the flag were causing economic harm to the state. In 1992, Governor Zell Miller announced his intention to get the battle flag element removed, but the state legislature refused to pass any flag-modifying legislation. The matter was dropped after the 1993 legislative session. Many Atlanta residents and some Georgia politicians refused to fly the 1956 flag and flew the pre-1956 flag instead.
Miller's successor as governor, Roy Barnes, responded to the increasing calls for a new state flag, and in 2001 hurried a replacement through the Georgia General Assembly. His new flag, designed by architect Cecil Alexander, sought a compromise, by featuring small versions of some (but not all) of Georgia's former flags, including the controversial 1956 flag, under the words "Georgia's History." Those flags are a thirteen-star U.S. flag of the "Betsy Ross" design; the first Georgia flag (before 1879); the 1920-1956 Georgia flag; the previous state flag (1956-2001); and the current fifty-star U.S. flag.
In a 2001 survey on state and provincial flags in North America conducted by the North American Vexillological Association, the redesigned Georgia flag was ranked the worst by a wide margin. The group stated that the flag "violates all the principles of good flag design." After the 1956 state flag was replaced in 2001, the Georgia city of Trenton adopted a modified version as its official city flag, to protest its discontinuation.
There was widespread opposition to the new flag, deemed the "Barnes flag". It led, according to Barnes himself, to his defeat for reelection two years later; the flag was a major issue in the election.
In 2002, Sonny Perdue was elected Governor of Georgia, partially on a platform of allowing Georgians to choose their own flag in a state referendum. He authorized the Georgia legislature to draft a new flag in 2003.
The Georgia General Assembly's proposed flag combined elements of Georgia's previous flags, creating a composition that was inspired by the Confederate First National flag, the Stars and Bars, rather than the Confederate Battle Flag. Perdue signed the legislation into law on May 8, 2003.
The 2003 flag legislation also authorized a public referendum on which of the two most recent flags (the 2001 and 2003 versions) would be adopted as the flag of the state; the 1956 flag was not an option. The referendum took place during the state's March 2, 2004 presidential primary election. If the 2003 flag was rejected, the pre-2001 design would have been put to a vote. The 2003 design won 73.1% of the vote in the referendum.