A new Georgia license plate featuring a large Confederate battle flag has ignited a controversy in the state — but its designer thinks the whole thing’s overblown.
“What’s the big deal?” asks Jack Bridwell, the state commander of the Georgia division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the designer of the specialty plates that benefit his organization. “If I offend anyone, I don’t understand why because we had the emblem on there for years.”
Georgia has offered a Sons of Confederate Veterans-backed license plate with an image of the Confederate flag since 2003. But a recent change in the state’s manufacturing process from embossed images to digital stickers necessitated a redesign. With it came renewed attention — and a fresh round of criticism.
“To display this is reprehensible,” Southern Christian Leadership Conference spokesman Maynard Eaton told the Associated Press. “We don’t have license plates saying ‘Black Power.’”
The Confederate flag is an especially charged symbol in the South, representing a legacy of racism, injustice and oppression to many while held up as an important emblem of heritage by others.
Nine states – Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia – offer Sons of Confederate license plates featuring a version of the Confederate flag. Proposed plates in Florida, Kentucky and Texas have been rejected. In 2011, the board of the Texas DMV unanimously rejected a Confederate plate after hearing hours of testimony from opponents who believe the flag perpetuates racism. The Sons of Confederate veterans sued over the decision and the case remains in the courts.
According to officials at Georgia’s department of motor vehicles, the state has received 35 orders for the new plates since they became available Jan. 21. The plates sell for $80, with $10 of that going to the Sons of Confederate Veterans. State officials declined to comment on the decision to offer the group’s plates.
Bridwell says he initially wanted to include an image of Stone Mountain, a granite dome near Atlanta with carvings depicting Confederate icons Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. But Stone Mountain is a now a theme park owned by a private entity, which claims a trademark to the image, leading the DOT to reject the design.
Georgia issues license plates benefitting dozens of other organizations and Bridwell feels the state is right not to treat his group differently than the Georgia Aquarium or the Atlanta Braves Foundation. But he’s not surprised at the reaction, even though Georgia has offered a version of the plate for years.
“The people that are up in arms about it again were up in arms the first time,” he says. “The design is just people trying to show who they are and trying to be proud of their heritage. And it’s not limited to the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Anybody in Georgia who wants one can get one. There are probably more on the road than there are members.”
On that count, at least, he’s right. There are currently 3,500 active Sons of Confederate Veterans members. More than 10,000 confederate plates have been sold in Georgia since 2003.