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Speech to the Georgia House of Representatives (2001)
- Speech to the Georgia House of Representatives (24 January 2001)
- Forty years ago, faced with court orders to integrate and with demonstrations by Georgians who wanted the University of Georgia and the state's public schools closed instead, the people who stood in our places did the right thing. The schools stayed open. And Governor Ernest Vandiver told the General Assembly that, unless Georgia faced up to the issue and moved on, it would "devour progress consuming all in its path pitting friend against friend demoralizing all that is good stifling the economic growth of the state."
- We have a great deal to be proud of as Georgians. Our history, our heritage, our state's great natural beauty. But, nothing should make us prouder than the way Georgia has led the South by focusing on the things that unite us instead of dwelling on those that divide us. While the government of Arkansas used the armed forces of the state to prevent nine black students from enrolling at Little Rock's Central High School, while the Governor of Alabama stood defiantly in a schoolhouse door, Georgia quietly concentrated on growing our economy, on the goals that bring us together rather than those that can tear us apart. And, in the process, Georgia established itself as the leader of the New South.
- Forty years ago, Birmingham was about the same size as Atlanta, and Alabama's population and economy were almost as big as ours. Georgia moved ahead because its leaders looked ahead. Anyone who doesn't realize that's why Georgia has become the fastest growing state east of the Rocky Mountains does not understand economic development.
- I am a Southerner. My wife is named May-REE. I like collard greens with fried streak-o-lean, catfish tails and all, fried green tomatoes, cat head biscuits and red eye gravy. My heart swells with pride when I see a football game on a crisp fall Saturday. I still cry when I hear Amazing Grace. My great-grandfather was captured at Vicksburg fighting for the Confederacy, and I still visit his grave in the foothills of Gilmer County. I am proud of him. But I am also proud that we have come so far that my children find it hard to believe that we ever had segregated schools or separate water fountains labeled 'white' and 'colored'. And I am proud that these changes came about because unity prevailed over division. Today, that same effort and energy of unity must be exercised again.
- The Confederate Battle Flag occupies two-thirds of our current state flag. Some argue that it is a symbol of segregation, defiance, and white supremacy. Others that it is a testament to a brave and valiant people who were willing to die to defend their homes and hearth. I am not here to settle this argument because no one can but I am here because it is time to end it. To end it before it divides us into warring camps, before it reverses four decades of economic growth and progress, before it deprives Georgia of its place of leadership in other words before it does irreparable harm to the future we want to leave for our children. As Governor Vandiver said four decades ago this month: "That is too big a price to pay for inaction. The time has come when we must act act in Georgia's interest act in the future interest of Georgia's youth." And, as Denmark Groover Governor Marvin Griffin's floor leader and the man who assured adoption of the current flag in 1956 told the Rules Committee this morning: "This is the most divisive issue in the political spectrum, and it must be put to rest." Denmark Groover is right. It is time to put this issue to rest and to do so in the spirit of compromise.
- This morning the House Rules Committee passed out a bill to make Georgia's flag represent Georgia's history all of Georgia's history. Both personally and on behalf of the people of Georgia, I want to thank Calvin Smyre, Larry Walker, Tyrone Brooks, and Austin Scott for their work to bring the people of Georgia together. The Walker Rules Committee substitute takes the original Georgia flag the Great Seal of Georgia set against a background of blue and adds a banner showing all of Georgia's other flags. It has the National Flag of the Confederacy and the Confederate Battle Flag, as well as flags of the United States, because first and foremost we are Americans. The bill also has a provision preserving Confederate monuments and says our current state flag should be displayed in events marking Georgia's role in the Confederacy.
- To those who say they cannot accept this because the Confederate flag is still in the banner, you are wrong. The Confederacy is a part of Georgia's history. To those who say they are opposed to this because it changes the current flag, you are wrong also. The Confederacy is part of our history, but it is not two-thirds of our history. It is time to honor my great-grandfather and the Georgians of his time by reclaiming the flag they fought under from controversy and division.
- The Walker Rules Committee substitute preserves and protects our heritage, but it does not say that, as Southerners and as Georgians, the Confederacy is our sole reason to exist as a people. Defeating this compromise will confirm the worst that has been said about us and, in the process, dishonor a brave people. Adopt this flag and our people will be united as one rather than divided by race and hatred. Adopt this flag and we will honor our ancestors without giving aide to those who would abuse their legacy.
- Georgia has prospered because we have refused to be divided. We have worked together, and the nation and the world have taken notice. We are where we are today, the envy of other states, because decades ago our leaders accepted change while others defied it. In the long run, it has paid us handsome dividends. Today, the eyes of the nation and the world are on us again to see whether Georgia is still a leader or whether we will slip into the morass of past recriminations. I have heard all the reasons not to change the flag and adopt this compromise: "it will hurt me politically"; "this is how we can become a majority"; "this is our wedge issue"; "this is the way we use race to win." Using race to win leaves ashes in the mouths of the victors. If there is anything we should have learned from our history, it is that using racial bigotry for political advantage always backfires. Sometimes in the short run, sometimes in the long run. Often both. And if you allow yourself to be dragged along in its raging current even if only briefly, you will live the rest of your life regretting your mistake. I know.
- Seventeen years ago this General Assembly debated whether to make the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. a state holiday. Many of the arguments I heard then I hear again today. "What will they want next?" "You know you can't satisfy them." The argument that gave the most political cover was "Martin Luther King was a great man, but we already have enough holidays, and we don't need any more." I was a young state senator, and my calls and constituents, for whatever reason, were against the King Holiday. I knew it was the right thing to do, but I was so worried about my political future that I did what many legislators do: when the vote came up, I had important business elsewhere. I knew instantly I'd made a mistake. So when the bill came back to the Senate for agreement, I voted for it. I was immediately besieged by constituents; so on final agreement, I voted against it. There is not a day that goes by that I do not regret that vote. Fortunately, there were enough leaders in this General Assembly then with the wisdom and the fortitude that I lacked as a young legislator. Don't make my mistake. Each of you knows the right thing to do. You know it in your heart. You know it in your mind. You know it in your conscience. And, in the end, that is all that matters. When the dust settles and controversy fades, will history record you as just another politician or as a person of conscience? Make no mistake, just as with me and a vote almost 20 years ago, history will make a judgment.
- Robert E. Lee once said 'it is good that war is terrible, otherwise men would grow fond of it.' This is not an issue upon which we should have war. Our people do not need to bleed the color of red Georgia clay. This is an issue that demands cool heads and moderate positions. Preserving our past, but also preserving our future. And not allowing the hope of partisan advantage to prohibit the healing of our people.
- Like most of you, I am a mixture of old and new, of respect and honor for the past, and of hope for the future. The children of tomorrow look to us today for leadership. If we show them the courage of our convictions, they will one day honor us as we honor the true leaders of decades past. Do your duty because that is what God requires of all of us.
- Encyclopedic article on Roy Barnes at Wikipedia