Amid controversy, OK Café removes decades-old state flag from restaurant

ATLANTA — The owner of a local restaurant has taken down a banner and flag hanging at her restaurant that have been called “offensive.”

It’s a significant change of position in the controversy involving Buckhead’s OK Café.

People clapped as an old Georgia flag was removed from inside the restaurant Friday after owner Susan DeRose ordered it to be taken down. The flag has hung inside the restaurant for more than 30 years.

Channel 2’s Justin Farmer spoke with DeRose about why she made the move and asked others how they feel about it.

“I thought, ‘Well, I’m just going to take it down. We’re going to auction it off because I understand it offends people,” DeRose said. “So I’m going to take it down and we’re going to give the money to the police force.”

Student Isabel Johnson, who grew up eating at the restaurant, was there to see it. Johnson, who went to The Lovett School and now attends Georgia Tech, leads a burgeoning organization of young people called Buckhead for Black Lives.

“I’m glad that it’s a good gesture in the right direction,” she said. “I’m glad to see that steps are being taken to kind of reform the restaurant and to make it a little bit more friendly for everyone.”

Johnson and others, while marching through Buckhead on Sunday, walked by a banner and tea party stand in front of the restaurant. The banner read, “Lives that matter are made with positive purpose.” Those too have been taken down.

The flag has been a point of controversy for decades. Farmer asked DeRose why it’s coming down now.

“I have it up because it means a lot to me. It means a lot to me about what happened in 1964 when women got the civil rights. I realize a lot of people don’t agree with that and some people have been calling saying they’re going to burn us down. I thought, ‘Well, I’m just going to take it down,’” she said.

Former state Sen. Vincent Fort said he’s not satisfied with the gesture.

“This has been a calculated attempt to insult black people, not just black people, but their allies, because there are a lot of white folks that have seen this and say, ‘Hold it,’” he said. “These guys have been so calculated, so offensive for so long that I’m not willing to give them a break.”

As for DeRose’s plan to auction the flag, Fort said, “We’ve been trying to get them to do the right thing and I’m not convinced that taking down the symbol and giving the money to the police is the right thing (or) the only thing that they should be doing.”

Johnson said the removal is a step in the right direction.

“I think it's a good first gesture but I think a lot more needs to be done in reforming how people are treated,” she said.

Johnson said Buckhead for Black Lives already has conferences scheduled with top Atlanta professionals to keep pushing for a better Atlanta.