You may have noticed the Confederate battle flag making headlines of late. Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, where current legislators may be buttholes but at least have never flown homage to slavery on Beacon Hill, our main concern appears to be the 2024 Olympics, or more specifically the prospect of a Summer Games coming to Boston. Look closely though, check a couple chapters back in the history books, and you’ll find an intersection of these issues that is worth exploring.
As it turns out, thanks in part to the Olympics, the United States of America was represented by the Stars and Bars on the world stage during the 1996 Atlanta Games. At the time, the Georgia state flag featured the confederate throwback in its entirety, and as you might imagine, tensions hit the ceiling during the Olympics planning process over whether the region—and by extension, the entire country—was going to present itself to international onlookers as proud bigots and xenophobes (imagine Hamburg, Germany, which is currently competing with the Hub for 2024, flying the Nazi flag).
Organizers back in 1996 declined to put rebel flags outside of their new private venues, but were otherwise mum on the matter as it pertained to public attractions—that despite their ravishing success in swaying Georgia politicians on innumerable other issues. As a result, activists took up the fight to have the filth removed from plain sight of an international audience. After that failed, since state-owned venues like the Georgia Dome were “required by law” to hoist the symbol of southern aggression (which was added to the flag in protest of federal desegregation in 1956, and remained there until 2001), some folks engaged in direct action. From the Los Angeles Times, which dutifully covered the national disgrace …
This afternoon, shortly before the Olympic torch begins the last leg of its journey to the city’s new stadium to signal the start of the XXV Olympiad, another smaller, ragtag relay will begin at the crypt of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Away from the cheering masses, runners will carry the flame through an African American neighborhood that has seen better days and on to the steps of the state Capitol. There they will set fire to the Confederate battle emblem—otherwise known as the state flag—which some political leaders have taken to calling “the American swastika.”
Times writer Eric Harrison noted, “Not since Union forces burned Atlanta during the Civil War have locals been so worked up over somebody coming this way with a torch.” In any case, the Olympics commenced with Georgia’s tribute to the biggest failure in American history still soaring.
Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about Olympiad legacies, and in flashbacks from Atlanta, some see great success. At the same time, others see infrastructural white elephants, and an event that was marred by visual displays of the confederate emblem, not to mention a bombing attack by self-described “bona fide Civil War buff” Eric Rudolph. It’s all subjective, as would no doubt be the impact of a Boston Games. Nevertheless, some facts can’t be denied, and shouldn’t be forgotten. As Massachusetts flirts with bringing the Olympics to the Bay State, we may want to consider the legacy of the Atlanta Games in full—stars, bars, warts, and all.
[Media Farm is wrangled by DigBoston News + Features Editor Chris Faraone]