Sunday, January 20, 2013

Georgia's State Flag: A Visual History

The state flag of Georgia
If you look closely at the Georgia state flag, you will see a version of all the individual flags and symbols that have represented the state, starting with Georgia's Great Seal which dates to 1799.
The official Great Seal is made of two designs but it is the front, the obverse side, that has a version included on Georgia's state flag. 

The official Great Seal of Georgia
The Great Seal includes three pillars with the values of wisdom, justice, and moderation inscribed in a ribbon wrapped around each pillar. Arched above the pillars are the words Constitution and Justice.While the official seal has the legend "State of Georgia" and the date, 1776, included in the border, the flag's version of the seal, includes the legend "In God We Trust" inscribed under the pillars with the image surrounded by 13 stars. The 13 stars reference Georgia's history as one of the original 13 colonies

Georgia, the 4th state, is the first state to include 13 symbolic stars on its state flag.

The pre-1879 and unofficial state flag
When Georgia seceded from the Union in 1861, it did not have a state flag but it did have a state seal and the tradition of using a version of the state seal on a banner as a state flag. This practice was common prior to and after the Civil War, particularly with local militia. According to the New Georgia Encyclopaedia: "The militia flags did have a common element ... the coat of arms from Georgia's state seal." 

This design is important as it continued to serve as an unofficial state flag until 1879. In 1879, with the lead taken by a state senator who also was a former Confederate Major, Georgia has a new state flag designed, one that borrowed its implied design from the Stars and Bars, the first flag of the Confederate:

The Confederate Stars and Bars, 1861-1863

While the new state flag did not include the ring of stars from the Confederate flag, it did include a version of the Stars and Bars' basic layout. This version of the Georgia state flag flew from 1879-1902. It included a wide, vertical blue stripe on the left opposite three, wide, horizontal stripes on the right:

Georgia state flag, 1879-1902
From 1902-1906, the flag was modified to include Georgia's traditional use of the state seal with the Confederate Stars and Bars:

   Georgia state flag, 1902-1906

Versions of this design continued until 1956 when the state flag was modified again, this time to include the Confederate Battle flag alongside a version of the Georgia state seal. According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, the 1956 state flag was created, in part, with an interest in Georgia's Confederate history and as a probable response to early progress of the Civil Rights movement as seen in Brown vs. the Board of Education:  

"A strong impetus for [changing the state flag], however, was the 1954 and 1955 Brown v. Board of Education decisions, which were bitterly denounced by most Georgia political leaders. The entire 1956 legislative session was devoted to ... 'massive resistance/ to federally imposed integration of public schools."

According to the website, Georgiainfo, an online research site under the direction of the Galileo database and the University of Georgia libraries:

"The Georgia state flag adopted in 1956 has long been the subject of controversy. Calls to change it began in 1969, with opponents criticizing the symbolism expressed by the Confederate battle flag image that visually dominated the design. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, numerous bills to return to the pre-1956 flag were introduced in the General Assembly – but none were successful." 

The Confederate battle flag (1861-1865)
The Georgia state flag (1956-2001)
In 2001, the flag was changed yet again. The 2001-2003 version includes a gold version of the state seal surrounded by a ring of 13 white stars. Both are centered in the middle of a blue field. At the bottom, is a ribbon of five flags that have flown over Georgia. This time, the reference includes the first flag of the United States, the three official state flags of Georgia, and the current flag of the United States:


The current state flag of Georgia was created in 2003. It is a design that harks back to the early versions of the state flag that focused on the colonial state seal as well as a more subtle reference to the Confederate Stars and Bars.

Let if fly!
The New Georgia Encyclopedia


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