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A history of Georgia’s state flag: Things to know

A segregation-era flag bearing the Confederate battle emblem was changed in 2001 and then again in 2004 amid strong debate and disagreement.

Georgia’s official state flag is actually the third flag design to fly over the state Capitol in Atlanta since 2001, when the Georgia flag bearing the Confederate battle emblem was removed and replaced, setting off a legislative showdown.

RELATED: Candidate for governor Stacey Abrams defends flag-burning during 1992 protest over Confederate symbol

Here are some things to know about the current flag and the two flags that it replaced.

The 1956 flag: The Georgia state flag was changed Feb. 13, 1956, incorporating a Confederate battle emblem into the design, as a response to the Supreme Court rulings on desegregating schools. The original 1956 caption for this photo reads "Two Georgia Democrats, at left, Frank Etheridge and Judge Gus Roan, present a new state flag to Republicans Ray Spitler and W.B. Shartzer to take to the GOP national convention at San Francisco. Shartzer promised to display the banner with its Confederate symbol."

The Georgia state flag was changed Feb. 13, 1956, incorporating a Confederate battle emblem into the design, as a response to the Supreme Court rulings on desegregating schools. The original 1956 caption for this photo reads "Two Georgia Democrats, at left, Frank Etheridge and Judge Gus Roan, present a new state flag to Republicans Ray Spitler and W.B. Shartzer to take to the GOP national convention at San Francisco. Shartzer promised to display the banner with its Confederate symbol." (CHARLES JACKSON / AJC FILE)

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A lawsuit and protests during the 1990s: In 1994, James Coleman of Atlanta filed suit against then-Gov. Zell Miller and the state of Georgia over the state flag. Miller had said that he wanted the Confederate emblem removed, but lawmakers wouldn't pass such legislation and the matter was dropped.

Black legislators had been pushing to drop the state flag with the Confederate battle emblem and restore its predecessor beginning in the late 1980s.

During a January 2001 the march for the MLK Day holiday, then State Rep. Tyrone Brooks carried the pre-1956 Georgia state flag along the march route. By 2001, the idea of making some kind of change to the 1956 flag design was starting to gain momentum, although many Georgians wished to see the flag remain unaltered. New Governor Roy Barnes supported the push for a new flag and hurried legislation through the state house, settling on a compromise design that incorporated all of Georgia's previous flags into the new design. (ANDY SHARP / AJC FILE)

The 2001 “compromise” flag: The Georgia Legislature approved a new flag in 2001, during the administration of Gov. Roy Barnes. The vote followed a divisive legislative battle. The flag, which many Georgians came to call the 'Barnes flag' because of its association with the governor, would be a short-lived banner. Architect Cecil Alexander designed the 'compromise' flag that flew over the Georgia Capitol from 2001 to 2003.

Roy Barnes was a Democratic legislator for nearly 25 years before serving as governor from 1999 to 2003. Many political observers believe his efforts to change the state flag to minimize Confederate imagery cost him reelection; he was awarded a Profile in Courage Award at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum in 2003. File photo Tami Chappell / Special to the AJC (Jennifer Brett/Atlanta Buzz)

The 2002 campaign for governor: Disagreement over the flag became an issue in the 2002 governor’s race, in which Sonny Perdue defeated Barnes. Perdue supported a public referendum on redesigning the state flag.

The 2003 vote in the Legislature: During Perdue's first legislative session as governor, the current Georgia flag emerged as a compromise choice in a proposed three-way referendum, among it, the battle emblem flag and the "Barnes flag." But on the last night of the 2003 General Assembly, the battle emblem was removed as an option, and Perdue signed the referendum bill.

The 2004 (and current) flag: Even though Georgians were finally given a chance to vote on which flag would fly over state institutions, some were unhappy that the 1956 flag design was not among the choices. The design was approved in a March 2004 referendum held on the same day as the 2004 presidential primary in Georgia.

The ballot included two choices: The blue flag and a new design.

March 2, 2004 Ballot: The official Special Statewide Advisory Referendum Election Absentee/Provisional/Challenged Ballot that voters were presented with as part of the Special State Flag Referendum. Even though Georgians were finally given a chance to vote on which flag would fly over state institutions, many were unhappy that the 1956 flag design was not among the choices. (SPECIAL TO AJC)

  

Georgia's new state flag flies above the Capitol and downtown Atlanta skyline after Gov. Sonny Perdue signed it into law in 2003. The current state flag was at the time the third flag to rise over the state house since 2001, when the Georgia flag bearing the Confederate battle emblem was changed and a legislative showdown ensued. -- Gallery by Mandi Albright, AJC (RICH ADDICKS / AJC FILE)

In that vote, the new flag won in all 159 counties. In DeKalb, the state's most heavily Democratic county because of a strong black majority, the new banner carried every precinct, despite the NAACP's endorsement of the Barnes banner.

The current flag was first raised above the Capitol on March 5, 2004.

Compiled by Brian O’Shea, with reporting by Mandi Albright and material from 2004 AJC article by Ben Smith.

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