NEW ORLEANS — SYMBOLS from the Civil War and other important eras in the history of race relations in the United States remain powerful today.
Last month Georgia Gov. Zell Miller (D) said he would give up his campaign to change Georgia's state flag, which incorporates the blue-and-red design of the Confederate flag, because of resistance in the legislature. Even though civil rights activists have launched similar campaigns in Alabama, South Carolina, and Mississippi, variations on the Confederate flag are currently displayed in all three states.
Last year, a federal judge ruled that students at nearby James F. Byrnes High School in Duncan, S.C., had a constitutional right to wear the Confederate flag to school after nearly 100 students had been suspended for doing so.
The Boy Scouts of America, however, have been more open to change: In 1991 the organization announced that it would no longer allow the Confederate flag to be used in their ceremonies, saying the flag was offensive to black members.
In nearly every Southern state, controversy has also swirled around celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. Mississippi and Alabama have tried to accommodate both sides by jointly celebrating the birthdays of King and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on the third Monday in January.
Sometimes, though, symbols are more easily relinquished when both principal parties are minorities. Two years ago in Los Angeles, students at the once predominantly black George Washington Carver Junior High School helped to name three of the school's buildings after such Latino heroes as Cesar Chavez, Father Luis Olivares, and Ruben Salazar.
In a city that has seen more than its share of warfare between young Hispanics and blacks, a student said almost everyone agreed to the name changes simply because, "If we try to help each other, maybe we can stop fighting and stop racism."