Political Insider

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Rebel flag emblem to stay on redesigned version of specialty Georgia license plate

Georgia officials will soon roll out a redesigned license plate that still features the Confederate battle flag emblem, months after halting the sales of the state-sponsored specialty tag in the wake of the Charleston church massacre.

The Department of Revenue and the Georgia chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans said this week they reached an agreement on the redesign and that it could be available as early as next week.

The redesigned license plate will look much like this, though without the faded Confederate emblem in the background.

A draft of the design wasn't immediately available, but the Confederate group's leaders said it would eliminate the larger image of the Rebel flag that forms the background of the plate while retaining a small, "blood red" version of the emblem in the foreground.

Gov. Nathan Deal ordered a redesign of the license plate in June after nine black worshippers were gunned down by a suspect described by police as a white supremacist. But he stopped short of calling for the Sons of Confederate Veterans tags to be phased out our eliminated entirely, as leaders in North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee ordered over the summer.

Georgia law for more than a decade has required a “special license plate for the Sons of Confederate Veterans,” with the proceeds of the sales going to benefit the group. So far, more than 3,500 motorists have signed up for Georgia’s Confederate tag, and the group's leaders said demand has recently surged.

Confederate symbols of all kinds – flags, monuments, statues, license plates, even retail items – have come under unprecedented attack across the South in the months since the Charleston church massacre.

State leaders quietly erased Confederate Memorial Day and Robert E. Lee's birthday from the official Georgia calendar in August. And debate has swirled over other symbols of the Old South, including the faces carved into Stone Mountain, the portraits and sculptures enshrined in the state Capitol and even restaurants that feature the Rebel flag.

More than 4,200 people signed a petition released by Better Georgia, a left-leaning advocacy group, calling for the state to stop selling the plates. State Sen. Vincent Fort, one of the most vocal legislative critics of the specialty tags, said the redesign was like "stabbing is in the back and only taking the knife out halfway."

Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans countered the criticism with a membership drive, a lobbying campaign and the threat of legal action.

Here's how Tim Pilgrim, a Sons of Confederate Veterans leader, described the new design:

We did agree to remove the faded background as most of the Camps indicated that they would be willing to do as long as the SCV logo was in its place of prominence on the tag. They also agreed to let us darken the red in the logo to a deeper blood red. We hope to have that completed by the end of this week and our tag will start to be available to our membership and the citizens of Georgia by next week.


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About the Author

Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.