Updated 2:25 p.m.:
Nick Genesi, director of communications for the Georgia Department of Revenue, responded with the following comment:
“The Sons of Confederate Veterans CV plate is not a new plate. This is actually a currently issuing plate that has recently been transitioned from embossed to digital, as with all other plates issued in the state.”
The DOR said the original design (which also included the Confederate flag logo) had been in use since the early 2000s and that 439 were issued between 2012 and 2013. The plate’s new digital version was approved on Feb. 1.
The cycle of backlash and counter-backlash over the Confederate battle flag is alive and well and living in Georgia, thanks to a newly redesigned specialty license plate.
The new plate is sponsored by the Georgia division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a historical society of male descendants of the American Civil War. The group has long been unapologetic about using the flag in its logo, but it's recently become more vocal about spreading what it says is “the truth about the Confederate battle flag,” claiming on its website to have distributed more than 100,000 free CDs on the topic.
Commonly known as the Confederate flag, the X-shaped banner of 13 stars never officially represented the Confederacy. It was actually rejected as the national flag in 1861, instead being adopted by General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. The flag’s popularity as a symbol of Southern heritage gained a resurgence in the mid-20th century, but civil rights advocates condemn the image as a racist reminder of the region’s attempt to hold on to the institution of slavery.
“Could you imagine a person or group going to ANY state capital submitting paperwork for a Black Panther license plate ...” one blogger wrote on Urban Intellectuals.
Conversely, the Georgia Sons of Confederate Veterans says it has a right to promote and preserve the distinct cultural heritage of the Southern U.S. states. In a press release, it said proceeds in the amount of $10 per plate will go toward financial support for the group.
Founded in 1896, the group has included the Confederate flag on previous specialty plates in Georgia. However, the new design, announced on Monday, sparked a backlash after local news outlets, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, started reporting on it. Criticism of the plate spread on Wednesday as national outlets picked up the story.
Whether you consider the Confederate Flag a symbol of Southern heritage or institutional racism may largely depend on where you live and whom you voted for. Online polls show opinions are decidedly mixed. Comments on Debate.org are split down the middle, with 50 percent of respondents saying the flag is racist and 50 percent saying it is not. But research on YouGov.org shows opinions are more divided when measured across party lines. More than half of Republican respondents said they see the flag as a symbol of Southern pride, compared with only 4 percent of Democrats.
The Georgia Department of Revenue, which approves specialty plate designs, did not respond to a request for comment.