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The "Seal" Ritual of the Georgia Inauguration

9:19 PM, Dec 29, 2010   |    comments
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Nathan Deal celebrated his victory.

ATLANTA -- The Inauguration of Governor-elect Nathan Deal is less than two weeks away. The transfer of power is steeped in tradition.

For generations in Georgia, a simple ritual involving a small velvet sack begins the oath of office.

This is the story of political tradition.

It is the very symbol of government in Georgia -- The seal. And he is the keeper of the seal: Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp.

"It shows the transformation of power from one governor to the next," he said.

The seal is a part of every inauguration. Look for it in it's own little velvet bag.

"We have a fancy bag, we are actually getting a nice box for the inauguration something different," Kemp said.

The ritual as familiar as the cold January air outside the Captiol.

"Inauguration Day and protocol is for me to give the Great Seal to Governor Perdue, the existing governor, and he in turn, will give it to the governor-elect who will give it back to me," he said.

Looking at video from the 1971 inauguration, there is a familiar choreography.

Secretary of State Ben Forton makes a speech in his wheelchair, then hands the seal to Governor Lester Maddox who hands the seal to Governor-elect Jimmy Carter who hands it back to the Secretary of State.

The only time in the 20th Century when the seal ritual didn't occur was January of 1947 -- The Controversy of the Three Governors.

Governor-elect Eugene Talmadge died before his inauguration. His supporters allowed the Georgia legislature to elect a governor. When the General Assembly elected Talmadge's son as governor, the newly elected lieutenant governor claimed the office of governor, and the outgoing governor Ellis Arnall refused to leave office.

The Georgia Supreme Court settled the controversy.

Harris Blackwood is a columnist with the newspaper in Gainesville, he is also the communications czar for the Deal Inaugural.

"Mr. Ben Forton was a delightful guy who was confined to a wheelchair, he was our Secretary of State for many years until his death in '79. He used to tell the story of the '46 situation. He kept the seal and sat on it. He would smile and say it made quite an impression," Blackwood said.

The Great Seal of Georgia is a historical milepost on Inauguration Day.

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