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Sunday
Feb052012

379. State Flag Revisions: Georgia.

I always think of trooper glasses when I think of Georgia. It's not fair, but it's true.Now here's a perfect example of how political compromise can result in a less-than-stellar product. Georgia's flag isn't terrible, but it's nothing special either—despite being the newest flag of all the US States. One would think that modern design aesthetic would result in a more handsome flag. That is not the case. Ratified by law in 2003, the Georgia flag requires that we go back to 1788 to fully understand how it came to be. There's a rich story ripe with tension.

1788 was the year that Georgia ratified the US Constitution, only the fourth state to do so. At this point the state was already 50 years old, originally established by the British as a trustee colony, itself initially intended as a place to give ex-debtor prisoners from London somewhere to work in 1732. The charter was signed by George II, it's namesake, and was more likely done so as a military buffer for South Carolina from the Spanish in Florida. The original inhabitants were chosen for their work skills, and if you were a male, that meant fightin'. Interesting enough, the original trustee colony prohibited slavery, something a lot people don't know I'd bet. Throughout much of the 1700's the flag that flew over Georgia was the British Engsign Flag.

British Ensign Flag of the 1700s:

For the major part of first two decades of its history, Georgia was anti-slavery. Go figure. But as they are wont to do, economic pressure usually trumps ideals and slavery became accepted gradually, with the prohibition being lifted in 1749. Somebody had to man the cotton fields, and those men came from Western Africa. Two years later, in 1752, the trustee colony officially became a Royal Colony of the British Empire. Georgia was slow to join the American Revolution but again, trade issues of the colony dictated that they do so, and again, they signed Constitution of 1776 and were the fourth state to join the Union 12 years later.

During the Revolutionary period there were many flags, mostly amateur-made, that would have flown over Georgia. Four of those can be seen below, most popular in Georgia were the two Liberty flags on the right.

Georgia Independence Movement Flags 1775-177:

After winning its independence, most states in the Union simply few the US flag. All the usual variations would have flown over Georgia until right before the Civil War. It was 73 years later that the state seceeded from the Union, joining the Confederate States of America in 1861, and sending hundreds of thousands of Georgians northward into battle. The first major battle in Georgia — in case you're wondering — occurred at the Battle of Chickamauga, a confederate victory that temporarily halted the Union advance in the Western Theater. It featured the second highest casualties of the whole war, second only to Gettysburgh, and despite it being the first major battle in the state, it was the last major Confederate win in the west. Things went downhill for the confederate state from there, despite many bloody battles of the Atlanta campaign. During the war, the confederate flag few over Georgia. This would be something that would dictate future flags up until the present day.

The Three National Confederacy Flags, In Order:

After losing the Civil War, a lot of southern states begrudgingly flew the US national flag as their state flag. At this point, it wasn't necessary to have a state flag per se and quite honestly, the states had bigger problems they needed to focus on. There is no official account as to who designed the first Georgia flag, what it may have looked like or even the basis for creating it. Most resources actually skip right into the 1900s, but there were other flags for the state that pre-dated the war, and actually influenced the flag in the 20th century. Those flags featured a state seal and were used when militias were sent outside the state as a way to designate the soldiers as Georgians. There's proof this flag existed in the engraving below along with two best-guess replicas supplied by the University of Georgia.

Pre-1879 State Seal Flag of Georgia:

In 1879, Senator (and Confederate veteran) Herman H. Perry introduced legislation designing for Georgia its first official state flag. Not surprisingly, Perry's design used the Confederate Stars & Bars as its foundation, but his flag removed the stars and brought the blue field (canton) down to the bottom of the flag. It looked something like this:

Georgia's First Official State Flag:

This flag would fly unchanged until the 1900s, but was met with a rash of three major changes in the first part of the century. In 1902 the General Assembly decided to add the state coat of arms to the blue canton  in order to unify all the state military groups under one flag. According to the Georgia Secretary of State site, the next version came to life in 1906, but without any official support from the government.

"Some unknown person or flag manufacturer added a gold-outlined white shield to the coat of arms, placed the date "1799" below the arms and added a red ribbon with "Georgia" below the shield. Although the General Assembly hadn't authorized any changes to the state flag, apparently no one contested the new version. In fact, a Georgia history book for children published in 1906 includes a full-page color rendering of this design, indicating this to be the state flag of Georgia."

I think it's funny, but by now not surprising at all, that our state flags are so casual in their standards. One would have thought differently. Anyway, the weirdness is not done by any means. By 1920, yet another unofficial version of the state flag began appearing, this one featuring the entire State Seal in the blue canton. Yet both of these new versions were going against the law set forth in 1906. It wasn't until the mid 1950s that this would be corrected, but the controversy was just beginning to heat up.  

The Three Flag Fiasco of the early 1900s:

So, let's check back in during the mid-1950s. Of course the civil rights movment was just getting started and tensions were pretty high. What a perfect time to change the flag into one that recognizes the Confederacy. (Nice thinking guys.) In '56 State Senators Jefferson Lee Davis and Willis Harden introduced Senate Bill No. 98 to change the state flag design again, making a large field on the right contain the Confederate Battle Flag. This marked the first time in its history that the state's flag was determined by law and the law stood for 45 years until 2001. But all was not rosey. By the 1960s many were expressing frustration that the flag represented a bad time in the state's history (with the war and racism and all) and throughout the 80s and 90s multiple challenges to the controversial flag were mounted in the form of bill proposals recommending returning to a pre-1956 banner. 

The 1956 Georgia Flag:

What happens in 2001 is reminiscent of a lot of the flags we've covered so far, design by compromise. It was during this year that a compromise flag was proposed by a local architect wanting to solve this flag issue once and for all. His design featured the Seal of Georgia in gold on a blue field. The seal was surrounded by thirteen stars representing, well, you can guess what they represented. The next element is the root of both the success and ultimate failure of this flag, a banner featuring the major flags that have flown over Georgia. Five flags within the flag, an almost Inception-level design compromise. The words Georgia's History labeled the ribbon just in case anyone didn't realize what all those flags were for, and In God We Trust  was added by amendment before the bill finally passed in late January. By no accounts is the result a pretty flag. And it only flew for two years before Governor Sonny Perdue took office in 2003 and proclaimed that he was really going to fix this flag issue once and for all, by God.

The Great Compromise Flag of Georgia - 2001:

To his credit it only took the new Governor five months to make good on his word. By May of 2003 a new flag bill was introduced, approved and put into law. The design was largely based on the First National Flag of the Confederate States of America, prominently featuring the Bars of the Stars and Bars. The main elements in the State Seal were kept, along with the thirteen stars and the In God We Trust declaration. There was also a referendum putting the choice to the voters whether they wanted this new 2003 flag or the 2001 flag to fly over Georgia. The newest flag won by a 3-1 margin. And that's how the current Georgia State Flag came to be.

The Current Official Georgia State Flag:

Now, where do we go from here?

I've always found the history of Georgia interesting and I knew that I wanted to do something that felt like an extension of the four independence movement flags. (Those feel the most appropriate for a state founded and settled primarily by fighters.) Another element that is related and also found in some of the later flags is the soldier standing with a Colonial-era sword, drawn at his side. This is symbolic of the state's military defense of the Constitution and makes for an excellent flag graphic. A third element is the motto, Wisdom, Justice & Moderation. Besides being a nice reminder, it also serves to balance the sword and history of battles.

This motto also makes up the state plege which reads, "I pledge allegiance to the Georgia flag and to the principles for which it stands, Wisdom, Justice and Moderation." I think — and it's been awhile — that this is the first flag we've run into with an official pledge. There will be more, even if it seems weird and outdated to this author.

One more tidbit that you should know before I reveal the new Georgia flag. I have always thought the flag flying over Saudi Arabia is graphically amazing. It features a sword, on an emerald field with Islamic declaration of faith in Arabic above. It translates as, "There is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God." Sure, this is probably not a popular message in any southern state, but that doesn't mean I can't take what graphically works and borrw a bit from our Middle Eastern friends, right? By now you should realize where this is going. This is my personal project and I can do with it what I want, so I am. Ha. (If I really wanted to sell this idea, I might be slow to reveal my sources for obvious reasons.)

The Flag of Saudi Arabia:

I'm combining the elements that I like from previous Georgia flags, the Saudi Arabia reference above, and a field of something between red and peach. I also wanted the flag to feel organic or feature a human element so as not to feel too modern. Ideally, if it flew way back in the early years of the state, it would feel right at home. Overall, I'm quite pleased with the result.

The New Georgia State Flag:

I think this is going to be controversial. "Designer gives Georgia a new state flag that is similar to Saudi Arabia." I like it and reference aside, I know a lot of Georgians that would proudly fly this on the back of their F-150s. And it would look good too. A hand-drawn motto, a colonial-era sword, and a bold background will make this flag stand out among the rest of the fifty. Ahhhh, now it's Hawaii's turn. Time to right a big wrong there.

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Reader Comments (5)

Love your Fifty Flags project. You've got some awesome designs and I can't wait to see what you come up with for South Carolina.
May 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKevin Ryan
I haven't read all of your flag posts, but as a Georgia peach myself (I know, but I have to say it), I had to see what this one was all about.

Southern flags make me anxious. Any time I see the stars and bars flying with a certain weight, rigged-up on a pole in the bed of a red pick-up truck with giant wheels, I get a bit nervous. The Don't Tread on Me, though I know it has a rich history, just feels so aggressive.

But your pointing out that Georgians are fighters makes those flags make sense. Georgians didn't just fight about slavery. They fought and still fight to preserve a way of life you can't find anywhere else. They believe things that they feel are worth defending. Whether we all agree with those things isn't the issue so much as it is that they are willing to stand up.

I now live in Portland, OR, about as far away from GA as possible. And it's funny—I am viscously defensive of my home state. Friends in Portland say things like, "Oh I went to Georgia one time for three days and was shocked to see a Confederate statue," and I shoot back, "Those statues are for great-grandfathers who believed in things. That's the history. You can't wipe that away." I know there is pain there, a hurt that's prodded at every glance of those statues, and I know Georgia and other states all over the country have a long way to go in race issues, but those statues remind us of where we've come from. I defend my state like I would my brother. I can complain all I want, but don't you dare do the same unless you've really been there.

Woah—maybe I'm a fighter, too.

Your redesign does away with the stars and bars that get people so heated up, but at the same time it maintains its rich history. It's really fairly neutral. The first thing you see here is the sword, and your heart beats a bit. Then you read the words, "Wisdom, Justice and Moderation," and maybe you think, "that's a state I'd be proud to be from."
May 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDarsey
I like the direction this flag went. I will say that I know what you were going for with the lettering but in english it just looks messy. Would look nicer in a condensed sans serif font with tight kerning. I also think you might of hit on something without knowing it. Georgia is the HQ of Coca-Cola so at the end you end up with something that looks very much like an ad for Coke.
May 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTim Cox
Tim, I actually tried a sans (Univers ultra or condensed) but it felt too cold. I really wanted something that looked like it could have been done by hand, back in the 1800s by a soldier. But I know what you mean. I try to keep the process very quick. 1 hour or so. Then I move on. I'll probably go back after all 50 are done and make changes and adjust so that I'm happy with all of them. Would love to have a gallery of all 50 flags when I'm done. Who knows. Thanks for the comment, I really appreciate it.
May 18, 2012 | Registered Commenterjj
Hey;
Enjoy most of your work. I haven't read a whole lot on your blog however I am aware you are a graphic designer and as graphic designs these flags are GREAT but, with ALL do respect, as flags some of them are flops, look up "Nava Vexillology" go to the bottom of the page and select "Flag design" then select "Good flag Bad flag" And you will see why I hold this to be true. Flags are not only and Art form but ALSO a science.
Great work!
N. B. Cleve.
July 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterN. B. Cleve.

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