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The state of Georgia tops the entire nation of the United States for the number of previous state flags. For example, in a little more than two years' time, between January 2001 and May 2003, Georgia changed its state flag three times. Understandably, the history of Georgia's state flag is extensive in terms of various flags used and the reasons behind so many changes. Senator Herman Perry, a colonel in the Confederate army, brought forth the first official state flag in 1879. Between 1879 and 2003, seven different official flags were designed and approved.
Prior to the first official flag in 1879, no records indicate an official state flag for Georgia. Only historical records of the Georgia code, outlining requirements for regimental flags, exist today. According to Georgia code, the governor was required to provide Georgia militia with regimental flags bearing the arms of the state and the name of the regiment over which the flag flew. Records indicate that during the Civil War, Georgia flew a variety of flags, including Secession flags, the Confederate Battle Flag, and all three National Flags of the Confederacy.
With the introduction of the first official flag in 1879, Georgia's state flag was ordered to be carried by all volunteer battalions. Governor Alfred Colquitt approved the flag design on October 17, 1879, which incorporated the red and white striped Confederate “Stars and Bars” design, minus the stars. Legislation dictated extending the blue canton from top to bottom, with a width of one third the length of the flag.
After the turn of the century, in 1902, Georgia's state flag changed by order of the General Assembly. Georgia's state coat of arms was added to the blue canton. No records indicate any official authorization to change Georgia's state flag again in 1906, although the flag was indeed changed. Gold-trimmed white shields including the year 1799 were added. A red banner, outlined in gold, with the word “Georgia” was added just below the shield and coat of arms.
From 1920 until 1956, Georgia's state flag featured the official state seal instead of the white shield and coat of arms. Atlanta attorney John Sammons is credited with the design of another state flag in 1956, replacing the red and white bars with a pattern nearly identical to the Confederate Battle Flag. New state seals also first appeared on the 1956 flag, only appearing on state documents later.
Controversy surrounding the use of Confederate symbols in Georgia's state flag began in the late 1980s, resulting in an entirely new flag design introduced in 2001. Roy Barnes, governor of Georgia from 1999 until 2003, signed into law new legislation outlining a neutral design. On a blue background, the state seal was featured in the center, surrounded by 13 white stars, with a gold banner reading “Georgia's History” above a row of previous US and Georgia state flags.
House Bill 380, signed by Governor Sonny Perdue in 2003, again changed Georgia's state flag. Public outcry over the changes made in 2001 and demands for a public referendum resulted in the 2003 redesign. Returning to the original “Stars and Bars” design, the blue canton was shortened and the state seal replaced by the Georgia coat of arms. Rather than symbolizing the 13 states that seceded the Union, 13 stars representing the original 13 colonies circle the coat of arms.