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Sen. Fort wants 1956 Georgia flag removed from OK Café | News

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Sen. Fort wants 1956 Georgia flag removed from OK Café
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ATLANTA -- A Georgia senator is trying to convince iconic Atlanta eatery OK Café to do away with its 1956 Georgia flag display when it reopens.

The restaurant has been closed since December, when an electric fire caused heavy damage to its Buckhead building. OK Café features a carving of a 1956 Georgia state flag, which includes the Confederate battle emblem. Owners have said the carving will return when the restaurant reopens in the fall.

Now, Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) is calling upon OK Café co-owner Susan DeRose to keep the flag out of the building. Fort attended Tuesday's 8 a.m. Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau meeting, where he tried to persuade chairman Daryl Evans and president and CEO William Pate to consider the possible economic impact of the flag's presence.

In a letter to Evans and Pate, Fort wrote that he hopes to "avert embarrassment and loss of revenue for the Atlanta convention business." He said he believes the "Super Bowl and other major events would almost certainly" not come to Atlanta if the 1956 Georgia flag is allowed to return to the OK Café.

After the original 11Alive story about Fort's flag concern aired, DeRose contacted us and provided the following statement:

That Georgia flag which we put up when we opened, because it was the Georgia flag, it flew when Georgia made the biggest changes for blacks and women in the history of this state.  It represents all of the change made.  Honor the flag.  I do.  I’m not going to forget the history.  That opportunist Fort sounds like a Nazi

Fort responded to DeRose with his own statement:

For someone who supports a treasonous , racist flag to name call is the height of arrogance.  For her to use the term Nazi is an insult not just to me but all those people victimized by Nazis. She is trivializing the evil done by Nazis

Read Fort's entire letter to the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau:

I am writing in an effort to avert embarrassment and loss of revenue for the Atlanta convention business.

As you may be aware, Susan DeRose, the co-owner of OK Café, Bone's (sic) and the Blue Ridge Grill, has indicated in the media that she intends to continue to display the 1956 Georgia state flag that prominently features the Confederate battle emblem when the OK Café reopens upon the completion of repairs of fire damage. I note that Ms. DeRose's restaurants are prominently featured on the ACVB website, and I presume she and/or her restaurants are members of ACVB.

When a former patron brought the offensiveness of the display to the attention of Ms. DeRose and asked that it not be displayed when the OK Café reopens, she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "It's a part of my history, and my history has absolutely nothing to do with prejudice against anyone." This is the same rationale given by those who wanted to retain the Confederate battle flag on the grounds of the South Carolina State Capitol even after the racially motivated murders in Charleston.

After reading Ms. DeRose's comments in the newspaper, I consulted the restaurant industry's state trade group and asked them to intervene. The OK Café owner was defiant and made it clear they would not consider removing the flag.

This is particularly disappointing, not to mention ironic, in light of Georgia's history in dealing with the 1956 flag. As you recall, Georgia was facing threats of boycotts from major conventions, chief among them the NCAA. South Carolina was under a boycott for fifteen years due to the Confederate battle flag on its Capitol grounds, and suffered tremendous economic damage. Had we not changed the flag in 2001, we would have likely lost at least two NCAA Final Four basketball tournaments and a number of other NCAA events.

The Super Bowl and other major events would almost certainly also have been lost. The business and hospitality industry, including the ACVB, was very concerned about the boycott threat, and pushed for the flag change. Georgia's convention and hospitality industry, including the OK Café restaurant group, has profited handsomely as a result of the flag change. Everyone would have suffered, especially the hospitality industry, had Georgia not moved in 2001 to remove this symbol of treason, hate and slavery.

Despite Ms. DeRose's role as one of the most prominent restaurateurs in Atlanta, she is planning to continue to display the 1956 Georgia flag when the OK Café reopens. I would like to address the August 18 meeting of the Executive Committee of the ACVB to urge you to persuade Ms. DeRose to not display the 1956 Georgia flag when the OK Café reopens. Should the OK Café continue to display this divisive symbol, I would ask the ACVB to remove any reference to them from websites and publications. I will also ask that the ACVB take proactive steps to alert future conventions and their attendees to the embarrassment that they may face if they patronize Ms. DeRose's restaurants.

Governor Nikki Haley was right when she said about the Confederate flag on South Carolina's Capitol grounds: "It should never have been there". That is also true about the flag display at the OK Café. It should never have been there. All the while, this establishment in Buckhead, just miles from the heart of the Civil Rights movement, persists in defending a symbol that is counter to everything Atlanta aspires to be.

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