Sunday, April 24, 2011

Dodge Countay Georgia Proudly Flies Battleflag

Georgia county votes to keep Confederate battle flag
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

In a county named for a New York congressman, a uniquely Southern controversy is brewing over the Confederate flag.

While the Dixie battle cross, first added to Georgia's flag in 1956 by an all-white Legislature resisting integration, was removed from the state flag in 2003, it has continued to fly at the Dodge County courthouse in Eastman as part of a memorial to Confederate war dead. Eastman is located roughly 50 miles southeast of Macon.

The local NAACP claims the flag was to fly only once a year. It has remained despite complaints from the civil rights group, which is prepared to mount a legal challenge to have the flag taken down.

"It's a symbol of racism and hatred," said John Battle, president of the Dodge County NAACP. After trying for years to resolve the matter and getting nowhere, the NAACP retained an attorney who sent a letter last week to the board of commissioners asking them to stand by the original resolution, passed in 2002, allowing the annual display.

On Monday, the board met in a closed session and decided, in a vote taken at their public meeting afterward, to keep the flag up 365 days a year.

Commissioner William Howell, Jr., who cast one of three votes in favor of displaying the flag, said the commission's hands were tied.

"We're probably going to be involved in a lawsuit either way," Howell told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "The Sons of Confederate Veterans is going to sue us if we take it down and the NAACP will sue us if we leave it up."

Howell cited a state law that he said prohibits the commissioners from removing appropriate items from publicly owned memorials.

"It's as much a part of our history as Martin Luther King," said Howell, adding there's been little objection from the residents of Dodge County, about 30 percent of whom are black, according to U.S. census figures. "You've got two or three people raising a ruckus." Only one of the board's four commissioners voted to remove the Confederate battle flag from courthouse grounds.

Battle said it's not just African-Americans who oppose its display.

"When people come into town, what are they going to think?" he said. "They're going to think these people down here are still racists. It's another black eye for Dodge County."