The Georgia division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans requested the new plate design, and the Georgia Department of Revenue recently approved it. The group's old plate had a small Confederate battle flag. The new one features an additional, larger image in the background that covers the entire plate.
Spokesman Ray McBerry said the group meant no offense and views the plates as a way for people to honor their heritage.
"We believe that everyone has the right to preserve their heritage," he said. "Southerners have as much right to be proud of their heritage as anybody else."
Southern Christian Leadership Conference spokesman Maynard Eaton told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution the state shouldn't have sanctioned the move.
"To display this is reprehensible," Eaton said. "We don't have license plates saying 'Black Power.'"
Gov. Nathan Deal said Tuesday that he was unaware of the plate.
"I hadn't heard that, so I don't know anything about it," Deal said. "I'll have to talk to them about it. I had no information in advance about it."
States that joined the Confederacy have taken different positions on the battle flag.
North Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi have specialty license tags that include it, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Texas rejected an application to issue one on the grounds that it could offend some. The Texas Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans sued board members of the Texas motor vehicle agency, and the case remains in court.
In Georgia, the Department of Revenue's motor vehicle division approves proposed designs for specialty plates. Agency spokesman Nick Genesi said the old design included the Confederate battle emblem and that organizations with existing plates were allowed to submit new designs since the state switched to a new type of flat, digitally-printed plate.
Genesi said any submitted designs must not violate copyright laws.
The plates are available for an initial cost of $80, of which $10 is directed to the Sons of ConfederateVeterans.
The group on its website says the funds will be used to promote Southern heritage through educational activities and preservation efforts around the state.