Some see flag as heritage

By Jim Chapman, The Times

The roots of Georgia’s flag debate began almost 2,000 years ago in an unlikely place: Greece. And it began with with an unlikely person: Andrew, one of the first disciples of Jesus Christ.

Early traditions relate that Andrew preached as far as today’s Ukraine after the crucifixion of Jesus.

Andrew was himself crucified around 60 A.D. in Greece on a diagonal, or X-shaped cross.

Tradition also says that Andrew’s remains, held by Christians as holy relics, later were transported to Scotland after a priest recounted a vision telling him to hide them at the "ends of the earth."

The British Isles were, at the time (around 732 AD), thought to be the ends of the world. So the priest sailed to Scotland to what is today called St. Andrews.

This established Andrew as Scotland’s and several other countries’ patron saint. His X-shaped cross later was the basis for the Scottish flag which has flown for hundreds of years.

Later, in 1707, the Act of Union joined Scotland with England and Wales to form the Kingdom of Great Britain. The Cross of Saint Andrew was incorporated into the new flag. In 1801, Ireland joined in, forming the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom’s flag, or the "Union Jack," flew over the American colonies, and with it the Cross of Saint Andrew. This flag flew over much of Georgia until the early 1780s, when America won its independence.

Many of Georgia’s immigrants, especially in the North Georgia region, were Scotch/Irish, English and German. Many came down the Great Wagon Road from Pennsylvania. The Cross of Saint Andrew came, too.

"(The symbol) meant a great deal to the Scotch/Irish," says Gordon Sawyer, author of "Northeast Georgia: A History," and other publications.

It was a icon they lived with, and many died with as well.

Some early settlers’ graves found in Hall County cemeteries, for example, display a Cross of Saint Andrew.

Today, some Southern historical groups say the symbol has been unfairly tarnished by hate groups.

They argue that the flag never meant anything but heritage until recent years when groups such as the Ku Klux Klan adopted it.

Some Confederate descendants actively challenge the Klan over the use of the flag.

In November 2002, several descendants of Confederate veterans, members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other historical organizations staged a demonstration at a Klan rally in Biloxi, Miss., protesting the Klan’s use of confederate symbols.

Jeff Davis, Gainesville resident and a member of several historical groups, says they’d had enough.

"We said, ‘We’re drawing a line in the sand. This is it for you guys using Confederate symbols,’" he says.

Others, like Michael Kelley, a Confederate re-enactor and historian from Mississippi, battle hate groups over these symbols to the point of drawing fire for their views.

"I’ve gotten death threats from the KKK, the American Nazis, Black Liberation Army and Black Panthers," he says."The reason they hate us is that we tell the truth."

Kelley even angers some SCV members when he argues that its members should have stood up to the Klan when they first adopted the flag.

"Nobody spoke about it for 40 years," he says. Kelley contends that, had supporters stood against KKK usage, today the emblem wouldn’t be tainted.

Kelley, commander of the 37th Texas Regiment, says that the Confederacy was built of whites, blacks, Hispanics, Germans and many others. He says the Union army was never as integrated or as anti-slavery as portrayed.

"There was never a Confederate flag that flew on a slave ship; all of them flew a Union flag."

Kelley cites, as evidence, photographs , diary accounts and even government records. He also cites his fellow Confederate descendants. In the 37th Texas group, for example, the chaplain is a Choctaw Indian; there are several blacks, as well as Latinos, Jews and Poles.

"Southerners come in all races and religions," he says. "At one time, they stood together."

Bob Harrison, an African-American Confederate descendant from Virginia, agrees. He often attends rallies and re-enactments, and gets a "mixed" reaction from crowds.

"I’ve been called every name in the book," he says.

Harrison comes to his Confederate heritage by way of long research and investigation, he says.

He estimates about 15,000 black Confederates saw combat and another 60,000 to 100,000 played other roles like cooks or teamsters.

"I have pride in my history," he says. "It’s given me a new sense of black pride.

For Harrison and many others, the issue is the use and misuse of an ancient symbol that, to them, is nearly sacred.

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