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Boycott threat rises in Georgia over Confederate emblem on flag
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- A new sort of civil war is brewing in Georgia, where opponents of the state flag, which bears the Confederate battle emblem, are demanding the Legislature vote to change the flag.
"It's not a threat, it's a promise that if nothing happens during this session, there will be boycotts and sanctions," said state Rep. Tyrone Brooks as a new legislative session got under way Monday. "Georgia will be hit a hundred times worse than South Carolina."
The NAACP staged a tourism boycott against South Carolina last year because the Confederate battle flag was flown from atop the Capitol dome. The boycott caused the cancellation of more than 100 meetings and conventions, costing the state at least $20 million in lost revenue.
South Carolina lawmakers eventually voted to move the flag from atop the Capitol to a spot in front of the building, but that didn't satisfy civil rights leaders, and the boycott continues.
Mississippi may have referendum
In Mississippi, where the Confederate emblem also is part of its state flag, the question of what to do about it may be decided by a referendum this year.
But the issue may be the most controversial in Georgia, which is the birthplace and resting-place of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
"People can demonstrate, people can kick, scream and whine all they want -- when it comes right down to it, their sell job is gonna be to the majority of the people of Georgia," said Charles Lundsford of the Heritage Preservation Association. The organization vows to "protect and preserve the symbols, culture and heritage of the American South."
But it was only in 1955, one year after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racially segregated schools were unconstitutional, that an Atlanta attorney proposed adding the Confederate battle emblem to the flag. Prior to that, the striped flag bore the state's coat of arms or state seal.
Boycott could hit Atlanta hard
A recent poll indicates that 49 percent of Georgians want to keep the flag as is, while 33 percent want it changed. Less than a decade ago, almost two-thirds of Georgians wanted to keep the Confederate emblem on the state flag.
But a boycott in Atlanta, which has hosted the Olympics, a Super Bowl and hundreds of large conventions, could be devastating.
Business leaders concede that for that reason, many want the flag to come down. But both the Chamber of Commerce and the Convention and Visitors Bureau refused to talk to CNN on camera about the flag.
The issue is too sensitive. Even longtime civil rights leader Andrew Young warned flag opponents not to overemphasize the issue.
"It should not come before electoral reform, education reform and the expansion of economic opportunity," said the former Atlanta mayor.
But some opponents are threatening a federal lawsuit over the flag.
The flag may be just a symbol, but one that could threaten political peace and economic prosperity in Georgia.
CNN Correspondent Brian Cabell contributed to this report.
Hundreds protest as Confederate battle flag comes down in South Carolina
State of Georgia
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