ATLANTA -- Shouting 'burn, baby, burn,' about 200 protesters demanding Georgia remove a Confederate emblem from its flag soaked a state flag with kerosene and burned it in front of the state capitol.
A strong force of police kept close watch throughout the protest, organized by a group called 'Students for African-American Empowerment. ' The group, representing students from several Atlanta-area colleges, said it wanted to express outrage at the inclusion of the Confederate battle emblem on the state flag.
The protest intensified an already bitter campaign spearheaded by Gov. Zell Miller, who has called the current flag,adopted in 1956, a racist symbol of defiance to integration.
Miller has introduced legislation in the General Assembly to change the state flag to the pre-1956 version, which sported the Confederate stars and bars, by the time the 1996 Summer Olympics are held in Atlanta.
But protesters, waving signs that read 'Let the KKK Confederate flag go up in smoke,' demanded that a totally new state flag be adopted. They want a flag that does not include any Confederate symbols.
They also said the flag represented a much larger issue, what they called the continuing oppression of African-Americans.
'Brothers and sisters, we can no longer afford to be slaves to this racist, oppressive system,' said Mellisa Sanders.
'This is about a symbol that has oppressed us for years,' she said. 'That the KKK and others have held and flown as they castrated our brothers.
'That is why we cannot afford to jump on the bandwagon with Governor Zell Miller,' said Sanders.
'It's time for a proclamation of liberation,' said Lawrence Jeffries. 'Flying the politically correct flag across Georgia will not correct the oppression.
'This is not the land of the free but the home of the oppressed,' he said.
Demonstrator Lawrence Phillpott said the 1993 General Assembly, which will consider legislation to change the flag, is in the same racist form as the 1956 Legislature which opposed integration.
'The flag is a flapping honor of white supremacy, nothing more and nothing less,' he said.
After the protest, Miller, who had issued an open letter asking protesters not to burn the flag, said he was disappointed, saddened and disheartened.
'Not only was it wrong, but I also think that it damaged the message that they wanted to send,' he said.
'When you start talking about burning things, the history of the Ku Klux Klan is the best example I know that burning things is the wrong way to go about doing business,' said Miller.
'The only thing that's ever resulted from burning things is just more hostility,' he said.
Miller also said he could support a new flag that does not include any reference to the Confederacy.
'I have never said that I would not accept any other flag except the pre-1956 flag,' he said.
'It is not so much what you change back to, but that you just change the flag,' he said.