When the OK Cafe reopened late last year after a devastating fire, its owners decided to keep a carved wood rendering of the old state flag that featured the Confederate battle emblem despite calls to take it down. Sometime in the last few weeks, though, the revered Atlanta eatery quietly moved the controversial flag to a less prominent spot.
For a time last year, the fight over the restaurant’s flag became a somewhat obscure front in the larger debate over the place of Civil War symbols in modern-day Georgia that has led Gov. Nathan Deal to strike the names of two controversial holidays – Confederate Memorial Day and Robert E. Lee’s birthday – and push a redesign of a state-sponsored license plate with the Rebel emblem.
State Sen. Vincent Fort, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, had urged the restaurant to take the carving down, and tried to rally business leaders to echo his call. Susan DeRose, the restaurant’s owner, sent this statement explaining the move:
“To help put closure to this controversy: A well respected Santa Fe artist carved the then Georgia flag for the opening of the OK Cafe 27 years ago. The flag flew over our state capital ( and my school ) during the most progressive time in Georgia’s history. The laws enacted during that time gave me, a female, opportunities unheard of still in most parts of the world today. So you see, the flag is a treasure to me.
“After the fire last year we commissioned the same artist to carve our original American flag. We hang that one in a center of the building – as it should be. Both flags represents freedom and possibilities and mean no disrespect to anyone.
“As you all have the right to voice your opinions – our country gives me the right to display my pride… and show my thanks.”
Fort said Wednesday the move did little to quell his concerns.
“i still believe it’s inappropriate. By moving it to a less prominent place, they’re acknowledging it’s inappropriate,” said Fort. “But they need to remove it altogether. It’s stunning that a restaurant in Atlanta in 2016 displays a symbol of slavery and hate.”