Banks County Opinions...

June 6, 2001

Guest Column
By Phillip Gailey
The Banks County News
June 6, 2001

Some are confusing emblem of slavery with Southern pride
Mississippi voters last week rejected, by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, a proposal to remove the Confederate emblem from their state flag. I can't say I was surprised by that outcome, but I was disappointed to read that the Georgia county where I was born and raised felt the need to enlist on the side of those who confuse their Southern heritage with a flag that, for many Americans, symbolizes slavery and Ku Klux Klan terrorism.
When I was growing up in Banks County, then a rural backwater in the foothills of northeast Georgia, I don't recall that the Civil War was that big a deal. It came up mostly in high school history classes. For one thing, there were no cotton plantations built on slave labor in the county, no aristocracy hosting barbecues at Twelve Oaks. To the contrary, it was an area where mostly poor white farmers struggled to feed their families. As far as I know, there are no monuments to the Confederacy in the county or any observances of Civil War battles. I am not sure what the Confederate flag has to do with the county's Southern heritage.
The once-impoverished county has made impressive progress in the almost four decades since I left and has much to be proud of, including the largest outlet mall in Georgia at the intersection of U.S. 441 and I-85. So why would the board of commissioners want to turn back the clock by unfurling a divisive symbol over the county's future? The commissioners recently floated the idea of an official county flag. Not just any flag, but one that would feature the Confederate emblem in its design.
Fortunately, a recent public hearing on the issue caused the board of commissioners to sound retreat, at least for the moment. After the flag proposal provoked public controversy, the commissioners voted to table the flag motion, and unless they bring it up for a vote in the next 60 days, this ill-considered idea will go the way of the Confederacy.
Let's be clear: The idea of a county flag designed around the St. Andrew's Cross was a pathetic act of defiance by elected officials who were willing to risk their county's reputation and economic progress for a lost cause. It came up only after Gov. Roy Barnes persuaded the legislature to replace the Georgia state flag dominated since the mid-1950s by the emblem of the Confederate battle flag. As a gesture to those who can't let go of the past, the governor agreed to hang a restored, six-foot-by-11-foot portrait of Robert E. Lee in a place of prominence inside the State Capitol.
That apparently didn't satisfy Banks County's board of commissioners, which proposed creating a county flag that bore a striking resemblance to the one the state just retired. With the Confederate emblem as its centerpiece, the flag was to include the county seal and six stars-one for each of the six towns in the county. The city councils in two of those towns, Homer (the county seat) and Maysville, wanted no part of it. They passed motions asking that their towns not be included on the flag. They were worried about economic boycotts and street protests. At a recent public hearing, according to a report in The Banks County News, citizens ripped the flag proposal to shreds. "The proposed flag issue has brought about divisions among the citizens," Willie Bell Rucker, a local African American woman, told the commissioners. "Think of the economic impact the Confederate flag will have on the outlet mall if the current selected flag is adopted. Banks County needs and depends on the revenue from the outlet mall. A county flag is a good idea if the flag is a positive representation of all citizens. The Confederate flag does not meet this criteria."
Mitch Whitfield was quoted as saying: "Let's don't offend a few people to glorify a few people ... If we can't come up with a flag that represents everybody, let's don't have one."
Another man told the commissioners: "If you've got to have a flag, why don't you put the Banks County emblem on it and fly it over Banks County."
There were, of course, some who defended the rebel cross as a symbol of Southern heritage. They pretend not to understand why African Americans are offended by the flag. They need to go to their history books. The Confederate flag belongs in museums, not in the face of the descendants of slaves. It may have been carried into battle by brave men who fought and died for a cause that was wrong, but it was later appropriated and desecrated by white racists who wrapped it around their evil resistance to civil rights.
Alabama lowered the Confederate flag from atop its Capitol seven years ago, and South Carolina, after months of political protest and economic boycotts, last year did the same. Georgia recently replaced the Confederate emblem as the centerpiece of its state flag. And in Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush earlier this year, without fanfare, removed the Confederate battle flag from a display of state flags on the grounds of the Capitol. Mississippi now stands alone, the last Confederate state.
Having lost the flag battle at the state level, except in Mississippi, those who refuse to let go of the past are falling back to towns and counties to try to keep the rebel flag flying. I am proud of those citizens in Banks County who want no part of this divisive flag. Their elected officials need to accept the fact that the Civil War is over. The Union won; the Confederacy lost. Long live the United States of America.
Phillip Gailey is editor of editorials at the St. Petersburg Times, where this column was originally printed on April 22.

By Angela Gary
The Banks County News
June 6, 2001

Snapshots from my mind
I'm outdoors in this tree house with no walls. It's raining sideways and I'm on the lower level with the boys. I wasn't brave enough to climb up the rickety ladder to the top level where the giggling girls were bunked down for the night.
I don't have an actual photograph of this moment in my history, but I'm sure I will remember it always. I can see all of the details clearly in my mind. It was 1993 when my cousin Heather was in fifth grade. She needed a chaperone for a school camping trip and I agreed to go along, even though I'm not the outdoors camping type.
Heather and I have had lots of adventures during the first 18 years of her life. As I watched her walk across the gym floor Friday night to get her high school diploma, I reflected on those good times. I also thought about the many more adventures we will have now that she has officially entered adulthood.
Living next door to each other, Heather and I have always been closer than most cousins. She calls me "Gee Gee" since Angie was so hard to pronounce when she was younger. I refer to her as my little sister, even though she is taller than me now and I have to look up to her.
My memories from her childhood include her slipping off to our house through the back field, her love of chocolate pudding and the fun mess she made with it and her constant plea for us to "brush my hair." When I had an internship the summer before my senior year of college, Heather came along with my family for a visit. Her blond pigtails were one of the first things I spotted when I looked out the window of my apartment in Savannah to see my family arrive.
Many of our best adventures have included traveling. I was also a chaperone at two other school functions--the seventh grade trip to Washington, D.C., and the eighth grade trip to New York City. Racing through these tourist areas in the hot summer months with a bunch of pre-teens was exhausting at the time, but I have plenty of great memories and other snapshots in my mind of these times in Heather's school years.
Relationships with family are ones that we should cherish. Friends come and go throughout our lifetime. They often center around our job or church, but these things change and some friends fall away from our inner circle. But family members are ones who will always be around and we should rely on them. As Heather grows up and decides which path to take in life, I hope she'll always remember that I'll be there for her.
My advice to Heather and all of those graduates who received diplomas Friday night comes from the Bible. It is my favorite Bible verse. It is one I repeat to myself through good times and bad: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Phil. 4:13)
Angela Gary is editor of The Banks County News and associate editor of The Jackson Herald.

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Homer, Georgia
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