A Georgia license plate featuring the Confederate battle flag was on sale again on Wednesday after the state ended a temporary hold on the specialty plates in response to the June massacre of nine black churchgoers in South Carolina.
Governor Nathan Deal halted sales of the plate amid national debate about the controversial flag used by the pro-slavery South during the U.S. Civil War.
A redesigned plate is now being offered with a small image of the Confederate battle flag in the foreground. It no longer features a larger background flag as on the previous version, said William Gaston, a spokesman for Georgia’s Department of Revenue.
The changes reflect an agreement the state reached with the Georgia chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which sponsors the specialty plate, Gaston said.
To defenders, the flag is a symbol of heritage, not hate. But it became a flashpoint after Dylann Roof, the white man who is accused of carrying out the racially motivated church shootings, was seen in photographs posing with the flag.
“We were just as mortified as anyone over the events in South Carolina but that doesn’t have anything to do with the Confederate flag,” said Ray McBerry, spokesman for the state’s Sons of Confederate Veterans group.
Following the shootings, South Carolina lawmakers removed the battle flag from statehouse grounds, where it had flown for about 50 years. Two-thirds of state residents recently surveyed believe that was the right decision, according to a Winthrop Poll released on Wednesday.
Just over half of the white residents surveyed this month supported the flag’s removal, compared to 93 percent of the black residents polled.
The flag remains a polarizing topic in many southern states including Virginia, where 21 high school students were suspended on Tuesday because of clothing emblazoned with the Confederate flag that violated a new school policy.
(Editing by Letitia Stein and Bill Trott)