A recent discussion of the confederate battle flag and what it stood for in the past, and stands for today spurred me to some investigation. The results follow.
My basic opinion of the confederate flag and its meaning is most effectively expressed in another node, so I will not waste nodespace on it here, but I would encourage you to read the afore-linked node in the near future.
Currently there are four states whose state flags contain remnants of the infamous confederate battle flag.
The most obvious of the four would be Mississippi. The Mississippi state flag is made of three horizontal stripes, colored blue, white, and red from top to bottom, overlaid with the confederate battle flag in the upper left corner. This flag was designed in 1894 and flew over the state until 2000 when it was discovered that somehow the flag had never been officially adopted. In the light of so much controversy, the state held a referendum and the general public overwhelmingly voted to keep that flag. The NAACP is still tied up in court trying to have the flag changed.
The confederate battle flag is also a common, though unofficial icon for the state's most famous university, Ole Miss.
Mississippi's population is over 36% black.
Until 2001 Georgia's state flag was composed of a vertical blue stripe on the left, containing the state seal and a square panel* containing the "confederate cross" on the right. In 2001 the state government amended the flag to remove the controversial X. This was a very unpopular thing in the south (I know, I live here) and until the other day, I was against the decision to amend the flag.
My objection was born of ignorance. The presence of the "stars and bars" on Georgia's state flag was not an icon of days gone by. It was not homage to a past society of southern gentlemen and southern belles. It was not even a tribute to our forefathers who had died in a pointless and embarrassing war.
From 1879 until 1956 Georgia had a standard red, white, and blue flag consisting of a blue panel on the left containing the state seal and three equally-sized (red-white-red) horizontal stripes on the right. This was the most patriotic, and (in my opinion) attractive flag they've had yet.
In 1956 the state government adopted a new state flag. As a protest against forced integration, the confederate battle flag was added in place of the three horizontal stripes. This is perhaps the first misuse of the banner as a symbol of racism and separatist ignorance.
The very man who sponsored this flag's inception, Georgia House Floor Speaker Denmark Groover, openly admitted the flag's racist intentions over 40 years later and in addition announced his change of heart and supported the subsequent amendment of the flag, stating something to the effect of having learned to live with his neighbors.
The current, amended flag is all blue, with the state seal in the center. However, under the seal are the words "Georgia's History" and under those words is a series of icons of flags that have flown over Georgia in the past. The leftmost is the famous "Betsy Ross" American flag, to the right of it is Georgia's original baby-blue flag with the state seal centered. To its right is the 1879-1956 flag and to its right is the controversial flag, and to its right is the current American flag. Under the series of flags are the words "In God We Trust". It is very complex, for a state flag.
So even still, on the amended flag, there are the remnants of the confederate battle flag.
The Alabama state flag is subtler. It is plain white with a red X connecting all four corners.
The X is known as St. Andrew's cross and is a remnant of the confederate battle flag. This cross was incorporated into the confederate flag because of the strong Scottish and Irish influence in the south, as this saint was well known to both groups and was crucified on an X-shaped cross.
Also, one of the flags used by the confederacy was known as "The Stainless Banner" and was all white with the "Confederate Cross" in the upper-left corner. The plain-white background of Alabama's flag is believed to be a throwback to this banner.
The Alabama state flag has little meaning or symbolism beyond its reference to the confederate banner.
The Arkansas state flag has perhaps the subtlest of references to the old Confederate Battle Flag. The current state flag contains the "stars and bars", but has them rearranged. Instead of forming an X, they form a diamond shape, symbolizing the only diamond mine in the US, which is located in Arkansas.
There has been little controversy about the flags in Arkansas or Alabama.
In case you are not from the USA, and have no idea what I am referring to above, I'll clarify a bit.
The US is composed of "states" which are basically geographically-defined political sub-units that comprise the nation as a whole (hence the name "United States of America"). Each state is allowed a certain degree of control over its own way of life, as long as it conforms to all national laws.
Each state flies its own flag. Usually the state flags contain symbols or colors that are significant to that state’s history in some way. Sometimes states use their flag as a way to make hateful political statements, which serve only to give an entire region a bad reputation, many years after that statement has been forgotten and considered obsolete.
One of the issues leading up to the American Civil War was the institution of slavery. Southern states (the confederates), relying mainly on agriculture, wanted to keep their slaves while the national laws were abolishing human slavery in the US. This is why racists adopted that particular flag.
The Confederate Battle Flag was a red square, with a blue St. Andrew's Cross. Inside the lines of the cross were white stars, one star for each state in the confederacy. The stripes of the St. Andrew's Cross, containing the stars are often affectionately referred to as "Stars and Bars" or "confederate Cross" or "Southern Cross".
Much like the Nazis adopted and ruined the original meaning of the swastica, American racists have adopted the Confederate Cross, and perverted its symbolism and true herritage. The difference being that some southerners (in true hard-headed southern style) refuse to stop waving the flag, and crossed signals and miscommunications occur.
*Despite what you see the KKK waving around at their little toga parties, the actual confederate battle flag was a square, not a rectangle.
Jan 30, 2003 - Update: gkAndy
says "The St. Andrew's Cross is also known as the 'saltire'. Just thought you might want to add that :)