- (Photo: Jason Eppink / Flickr)
Georgia motorists can now sport a specialty license plate with the background of a Confederate battle flag after state officials approved the design earlier this month.
Previous license plates had a small Confederate flag, while the new one will cover the entire plate, and will feature a gold frame with the words "Sons of Confederate Veterans," CBS Atlanta reports about the design that was approved by the state's Department of Revenue on Feb. 1.
This move comes after the Georgia division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group that claims it personifies "the best qualities of America" and seeks to "preserve the history and legacy of these [Confederate] heroes, so future generations can understand the motives that animated the Southern causes," had requested that the state approve a larger design.
The move has angered the African American civil rights' organization and the Atlanta-based Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
"To display this is reprehensible. We don't have license plates saying 'Black Power,'" Maynard Eaton, a spokesperson for the group told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
That was not the perspective of Ray McBerry, a spokesperson for the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The license plates sales benefit the organization and are a way for McBerry to honor his ancestors.
"We believe that everyone has the right to preserve their heritage," he said. "Southerners have as much right to be proud of their heritage as anybody else."
Jack Birdwell, the state commander of the Georgia division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the license plate designer, also said he did not understand the uproar.
"What's the big deal?" Birdwell asked TIME magazine. "If I offend anyone I don't understand why, because we had the emblem on there for years."
David Davis, a professor of southern studies at Mercer University, told GPB News that his worries primarily stemmed from state's opening up their license plates to interest groups.
"What seems much more problematic to me is that the state has been put in the position of endorsing any number of special interest groups with their own agendas," said Davis. "It's great to save wildflowers. It's great to support historic preservation. But if we open up the doors to any special interest group having their own specialty plates, then it puts the state in the difficult position of having to endorse agendas that do not reflect the beliefs of the entire state."
Former confederate states have shown a lack of consensus regarding confederate symbols and license plate tags.
According to The Atlanta Journal Constitution, "North Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi have specialty license tags that include it. Texas rejected an application to issue one, on the grounds that it would offend many residents. The Texas division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans sued board members of the Texas motor vehicle agency, and the case remains in the courts."
Georgia was the fifth state to secede from the Union, declaring itself part of the confederacy in 1861. It was the last state to be readmitted to the Union and did not return until 1870. It is also the birthplace for former Southern Christian Leadership Conference President Martin Luther King Jr.