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Governor Barnes Addresses Georgia Senate on Flag Issue

Aired January 30, 2001 - 10:42 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, we want to take you live to the state capitol of Georgia, Governor Roy Barnes addressing the state Senate on the issue of changing the state flag. Let's listen.


GOV. ROY BARNES (D), GEORGIA: ... for over 10 years. This matter has been fully considered over the last few days.

Last weekend, I went with my family to the north Georgia mountains. I brought some reading material with me because I love to read. I re-read President Abraham Lincoln's Inaugural address, where he prayed "the better angels of our nature" would allow unity and peace to prevail over division and conflict.

And I read Churchill's warnings during Britain's darkest hour that if we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we should find that we have lost the future.

I read a letter from a former member of this body, Senator Clint Day, that contained these wise words: People of faith must be guided by a moral compass that goes beyond political expedience.

The Christian faith may ask what would Jesus do about the state flag? I believe Jesus would change the flag to unite people.

The president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. James Merritt, wrote to me to say: I support the proposal for a new state flag, and I pray that the outcome of all of this will be increased racial harmony and peace, that we may focus on the deep, spiritual and moral issues that face our great state.

And I read letters also from people all over Georgia. A woman from Maysville wrote: I am not a Democrat; I've been opposed to changing the flag until today, but I feel that you have proposed a reasonable compromise that should be applauded by everyone.

This came from a man in Toccoa: I am a white male, 42 years old, and would be willing to die for the Confederacy today; the changing of the state flag is of the utmost importance, and the sooner the better. I can only hope that our legislators will do the right thing.

Another woman wrote: I hate to see the current flag go, but I understand; to me it's a beautiful flag, but to others, it is a source of pain. I think it is the Christian thing to do to try to ease the hurt that the flag causes. I want all of the children of Georgia to be proud of the flag. When I go -- when I go places, recently a park in Rome, Georgia, and the Georgia flag is not flown, I am hurt. I want a flag that Georgians can fly with pride, and that no organizations will refuse to fly. Most of all, I am proud to be a Georgian, and I don't want to be anywhere where my flag is left out.

I have been committed to keeping the flag unaltered, said another. I am from a family who, like yourself, had a grandfather killed at Vicksburg. He is buried in an unmarked grave, which I had no success in finding. His young widow raised the small children of their marriage, my great grandmother and her brother, in rural Paulding county. The Union army then came over the farm, leaving near total devastation in its wake. Thank you for your sensitivity.

And this was from a grandmother in Tifton. I must admit at the beginning that I have never voted for you before -- something I've heard before. I am proud to be the great granddaughter of a Confederate soldier, but I am also the grandmother who wants her granddaughter to grow up in a state where people care about each other, where race is not the first thing that matters. I pray the new flag passes the Senate. Thanks again for caring about the past, but caring more about the future.

I've read excerpts from these letters because I know you've received others. From those who claim we can never satisfy the other side, or say any change to our flag will dishonor our heritage, well, I'm here to tell you there is no other side in Georgia. We are one people forever woven together in a tapestry that is Georgia. We are all one, or least we should be, and it is our job, our duty, and our great challenge to fight the voices of the division and to seek the sound of reconciliation.

And to those who say that this would dishonor our heritage, I say that nothing could be further from the truth. The new flag does not, however, value one Georgian's heritage over another. We will never forget those like my great grandfather who fought at Vicksburg for a cause they thought was just. But neither will we forget those who served at Yorktown, or those who died in the beaches of Normandy, or even in the jungles of Vietnam.

The flag you will vote on today honors all of them, just not one of them. I spoken with many of you in the last few days, and told each of you to do what you think is right, and in the best interest of Georgia. There are some among you who do not like the process that brings us here today. I think I can defend that process, but it's really immaterial at this point. If you dislike the process, take it out to on me. I'm fair game. But don't put our people to anguish because of something that is not their fault.

Others have expressed concerns about demagoguery on this and other issues. Neither political party is clean when it comes to tactics that divide our people. And as we put this issue behind us, members of both parties should also put an end to such tactics. Today I ask that you once more rise above party and divisions and heal our people. Before I go, I want to read to you from two speeches made by a member of this body, the first on the opening day of this session of the general assembly, and the second a week later. Here's what he had to say: "It is important that Georgia avoids what we saw across the river in South Carolina. If any state can resolve this kind of issue peacefully, it's Georgia."

KAGAN: You're listening to Governor Roy Barnes here in Georgia. He is addressing the state Senate, encouraging them to vote in favor of changing the flag, the state flag here. Georgia is one of two states -- Mississippi is the other -- that still has the Confederate symbol still in its state flag.

The state House here last week, in a surprise vote, voted to change the state flag to a new flag: The vote there was 94-82. That vote and even the proposal took a lot of people by surprise.

Now you're looking at some video of the proposed new flag being put together, just in case today's vote does pass. Basically, it's a big blue flag with the state seal of Georgia ,and then underneath, six historic flags, six flags flying underneath, including the current flag and also -- that's five flags -- the current flag and also the flag of the United States of America.

Coming up in little bit, we'll be talking with the man who designed the flag, and talking with him about criticism of it, as well.

They need 29 votes to pass in state Senate, and if it does, Georgia will have a new state flag.



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