Georgia officials last week approved a specialty license plate featuring the Confederate battle flag.

Civil rights advocates were upset. Those who support the idea of the flag as a symbol of Southern and/or Confederate heritage were pleased.

Ray McBerry of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), the group which asked for the new tag, said the organization means no offense, that the plate is a way for people to honor their heritage.

Maynard Eaton, a spokesman for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), said the tags are “reprehensible.”

SCLC President Charles Steele said the heritage the Sons of the Confederacy want to honor shouldn’t be celebrated.

“When you go back to the Confederacy, when you go back to slavery, when you go back to the South, when it was legal to actually enslave people of color, African-Americans, we are saying that we don’t need to celebrate this in terms of the Sons of the Confederacy,” Steele said.

McBerry said the tags are no more divisive than having a Black History Month.

Of the two groups, the SCLC is closer to the truth about the flag than the SCVs, but not necessarily for the right reasons.

That’s because the notion that the Confederate battle flag still honors an Army, a cause or a way of life from almost 150 years ago doesn’t hold water.

In the years since Stonewall Jackson’s army carried the flag into battle it has come to symbolize the white supremacist Aryan Nations, Nazi Skinheads, Hell’s Angels and other modern day hate groups much more than the Emmett Rifles who defended Fort McAllister.

The book “Confederate Symbols in the Contemporary South” mentions a photograph of Aryan Nation founder Richard Butler standing next to a Confederate battle flag.

The same book describes Skinhead groups committing dozens of hate crimes while consciously using Confederate symbolism.

Today it is just about as easy to buy a Dixie Rebel Outlaws Hells Angels Confederate battle flag on ebay as it is to buy a miniature Confederate battle flag in the gift shop at Fort McAllister Historic Park.

It is true that the Sons of Confederate Veterans once took action aimed at preventing hate groups from using the flag, but the courts ruled the battle flag is part of the “public domain.”

As a result, the claim that the flag is a symbol of Southern and Confederate history and heritage is just about as dead as the more than 250,000 Rebel soldiers who perished underneath it in battle.

Regardless of what it once may have represented — other than perhaps a swastika — there is probably no greater symbol of hate today than the Confederate battle flag.

Confederate battle flags should not be hidden away and forgotten. Many of us, especially those living in this part of the country are descendants of men and women, who were citizens of the Confederate States of America.

There is still a place for the flags that flew over the CSA. That place is in a museum where it can be given historical context as a link to our past and our ancestors — whether we believe their cause to have been right or wrong.

The SVC will receive $10 from the sale of every $80 plate. Text on its website says the group will use the money to promote Southern heritage through educational activities and preservation efforts.

If the SCV hopes to ever mount a public relations campaign effective enough to start to change what the Confederate battle flag has become, everybody on the continent is going to have to buy a tag. And that’s not going to happen.

-Savannah Morning News