MOULTRIE -- The state flag flying above the Colquitt County courthouse is heavy and stays furled even on windy days. That's fine with Moultrie historian Jack Bridwell.
That way, he explains, he doesn't have to see what he calls the desecration of his Confederate heritage.
Hundreds of flaggers (as they are now known) hounded Gov. Roy Barnes all over the state for two years since he rushed the decision to change the flag through the General Assembly. Bridwell, division commander and the official spokesperson of the Georgia Sons of Confederate Veterans, was one of them.
Bridwell's organization wants a referendum so Georgia voters can decide between keeping the new blue banner with its central, gold state emblem and five diminutive emblems of past Georgia flags running along the bottom and going back to the old flag dominated by a St. Andrew's Cross, which Bridwell says hearkens even further back to many Confederates' Scottish heritage.
Gov.-elect Sonny Perdue's promise to put the choice of the flag to the people prompted many rural, white Georgians to take to the polls to help overthrow Barnes and make Perdue the state's first Republican governor since Reconstruction in 1872.
Perdue won 95 of the 96 counties that are more than 65 percent white, the Associated Press said. Four years ago, Barnes won 55 of those counties.
But in the week since Perdue's underdog upset, the wind of his conviction seems to have died down. The flap over the flag could slap black Georgians in the face and the state in the pocketbook if the 1956 version of the flag rises again. Georgia stands to lose millions in tourist dollars waving the Confederate banner, analysts said.
If Perdue does not make good on his promise, he could face the same kind of active anger that Barnes drew from supporters of the old flag.
"Our position as a non-political group is that this is a heritage attack on our Confederate ancestors. Our stand from day one has been -- not so much that the flag was changed but the manner in which it was done bothers us," Bridwell said.
Before the General Assembly voted for the new flag, he said, the SCV presented it with 101,000 names of resisters. The petition was ignored, he said.
"We have friends in both the House and the Senate, and we have some people who are not quite our friends," he said.
Bridwell said Gov. Barnes traded promises for votes, but many of those promised have yet to come through.
"He was using our tax dollars to make those promises with, and that sort of bothered me too," he said.
"Let's give the people of Georgia the opportunity to vote on a flag they would like. Speaking for our organization, no matter what came out of a vote, we could live with it and would live with it. We would be maybe less than happy, but we could live with it, if it were placed before the people in a referendum."
The SCV is a patient group, the division commander said, and are confident that Perdue will stand by his promise -- albeit, not immediately.
The governor-elect has inherited a number of pressing problems, Bridwell conceded, namely redistricting, the education system, the Northern Arc and, more urgently, a budget crisis.
Barnes' compromise was supposed to be a way to continue to embrace Confederate heritage without stiff-arming blacks.
Moultrian Isabella Brooks, president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, feels that the battle flag emblem is a constant reminder of slavery and thinks Gov. Barnes did the right thing to change the state banner.
Brooks said she can't speak for her group, but she believes a referendum would inflame racial tensions between blacks and whites.
"What's wrong with the one they changed it to -- just because they don't have the great big Stars and Bars. It's still on there and several other flags on the bottom as well. So what's the big deal about the big Stars and Bars if not to remind us that we were once slaves and that the Confederates fought for slavery?" she said.
Brooks said a referendum wasn't needed to change
the flag back in 1956, the height of Southern segregationist defiance, so why should Georgians have had a referendum to change it two years ago.
Brooks would hate to see Georgia boycotted like South Carolina for its embrace of the emblem, she said.
"We have to live in the same state. We may as well try to get along as best we can," she said. "We don't need any other catalyst to divide us any more than we already are."
Bridwell pointed out that the battle flag never flew over a slave ship, but rather the American flag flew over slave ships, he said. The Stars and Bars was simply a rallying point -- a flag that the soldiers marched under, he said. Never was it the flag of the Confederacy, he said.
And for those who confuse Confederate heritage pride with racism, Bridwell said, "We're totally a non-racist group. We've got black members, Hispanic members -- just go down the list. ... Our charter condemns racist groups.
"People look at us and make comments periodically like that, but it's simply because they just don't realize how strongly we feel about people misusing the flag."
To talk to reporter Lori Glenn, call 985-4545, ext. 224.