Flag scholar and NAVA vice president Annie Platoff was on the Pacifica radio network yesterday discussing vexillology, the Confederate flag, roots of people’s attachment to flags, the Apollo flags on the moon, and Russian and Ukrainian flags. She was a guest on Brad Friedman’s “BradCast” at bradblog.com/?p=11241. (Skip 8:40 into the broadcast to hear the flag segment.)
As anyone remotely interested in flags knows, this week has seen a tremendous amount of public interest in Confederate flags and their changing meanings — scrutiny and re-evaluation that has resulted in prominent retailers like Walmart and major flag manufacturers like Annin announcing they will no longer carry these flags. (For comprehensive coverage, see Richard Gideon’s American Vexillum postings.)
Here in Portland, this led to our largest flag maker and retailer Elmer’s Flag and Banner being featured in The Oregonian. Headlined Flag store owner wrestles with decision to remove Confederate flags, in it journalist Anna Marum interviews at some length Dave Anchel, the owner of Elmer’s about the complex tensions between serving the market as a business, representing the world of flags as a kind of public archive, and following one’s conscience as a community member and individual.
The article is well worth reading; here is an excerpt:
When Anchel bought the store in 2011, he was appalled to see it sold the Confederate flag.
“We sell that?” he remembers thinking. “Why do we sell that? That flies in the face of everything I stand for. Get it out of here.”
But slowly, Anchel came to understand that the store, which carries flags of every country in the world – as well as those from the War of 1812 and the American Revolution – was a historical archive of sorts.
“When you have a flag store you’re going to carry things you don’t like,” he said. “Because if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be true to the completeness of the collection. If you go to any flag store anywhere in the country, it’s the same dilemma.”
(As a further indication of the current public interest in flags, the article has garnered 877 comments — a level of engagement usually reserved for complaining about city government.)
We look forward to hearing more from Dave at a future PFA meeting. We are living in vexillologically interesting times!
Note: “Flutterings” — notes from the editor on our last meeting — is a regular feature in The Vexilloid Tabloid.
May Flutterings You Need to Know
In our May meeting, hosted by John Schilke, 18 PFA members and guests enjoyed a lively 3-hour evening of flags and other wide-ranging topics. As the host, John led the introductions and moderated the discussion.
Scott Mainwaring gave an update on the Oregon Flag Registry, especially thanking Elmer’s for sharing information on hundreds of flags. He commended Michael Orelove on the complete entry for the city of Gresham. He introduced a challenge of “people on state flags”, and shared David Dunnico’s A White Flag on the Moon.
Ken Dale reflected on the bicentennial of the end of the War of 1812 and on its causes.
David Anchel described how the equality flag (yellow equals sign on blue) was designed in Portland and how Elmer’s makes it in-house.
Dennis Stevens is pleased that his changed work schedule will allow him to attend our meetings.
David Ferriday shared some of his recent flag-related acquisitions, including a beer stein, shot glass, and key ring. He shared images of the Scandinavian flags at the Nordic Cultural Center on Oleson Road and some images from design books.
Larry Snyder showed an image of Spokane, Washington’s Cathedral of St. John, its interior festooned with the banners of every church in the diocese.
David Koski asked: “How long does an outdoor flag usually last?”. He got full answers from David Anchel (6 months to a year) and Mike Hale (who went on to explain his invention of “feather flags”). They reported a rule of thumb common to flag dealers but new to us: replace a U.S. flag when the stripes are shorter than the canton.
Mike Hale played “name that flag” with a souvenir bought during his May 2014 visit to Bruges, Belgium.
In response to his letters soliciting flags for educational purposes, Michael Orelove continues to receive them from nations, cities, and government agencies. The latest include Senegal; Springfield, Illinois; and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (which warned him to use the flag only for non-profit purposes!).
Max Liberman took careful notes; Jessie Spillers enjoyed the flags.
Patrick Genna reveled in giving out over a dozen flags of all sizes he’d gleaned at Goodwill. One inscribed “Cherokee Braves” at first seemed to him the flag of a sports team; he then learned of the Confederate troops raised from native tribes.
Visitor Casey Sims brought his Portland Ska Flag (see VT #51) and described the process of its creation by a bandmate as well as his own interest in flags.
Keryn Anchel may commemorate the now-famous carpet from the Portland International Airport with a flag using its motif.
With Fiji’s new flag effort under way, Ted Kaye disclosed that in two days he would travel there to serve as technical advisor to the national flag committee.
Our special guest, Alexander Baretich, described how he’d designed the Cascadia flag in 1995 (see VT #36). Robert Izatt, his student, helped him display a huge version. He discussed his decision to put the design into “creative commons” for all to share.
19 September 1952
The Adventures of Superman begins airing on American television, following an undocumented alien immigrant as he fights “the never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way”. The famous opening sequence ends with George Reeves standing before a US flag, somehow briskly flying in outer space. In less than 20 years, fiction will become reality, insofar as the flag is concerned.
14 June 1954
To heed off “godless Communism” President Eisenhower adds the controversial words Under God to the Pledge of Allegiance (though no one knows what they mean exactly). Senator Joe McCarthy ends his hearings on Communist infiltration of the US Army and State Department three days later. In this period of American cultural turbulence, 24 year-old Jasper Johns begins work on his dream-inspired, multi-layered encaustic masterpiece Flag, the first of his many variations on this theme.
4 July 1960
Current 50-star flag adopted, recognizing Hawaiian statehood. (It replaces a short-lived, and seldom manufactured, 49-star version from the year before.)
12 June 1963
On Flag Day, Civil rights leader Medgar Evers is assassinated in Jackson, MS. As Woden Teachout explains in Capture the Flag: A Political History of American Patriotism, by the late 1950s segregationists had for the most part abandoned the US flag — a symbol of Federally-imposed desegregation — in favor of the Confederate, and young people in the civil rights movement had opportunistically reclaimed the Stars and Stripes as their own; Evers was instrumental in furthering the flag’s adoption both as a symbol and as a protest tactic (signs could be easily ripped out of hands, but images of police ripping away flags conveyed protesters’ message quite powerfully).
3 October 1968
Theatrical “Yippie” activist Abby Hoffman is arrested and charged that he “knowingly cast contempt upon the flag of the United States by publicly mutilating, defacing and defiling it” for wearing a shirt with a flag motif with satirical political buttons pinned to it. Three months earlier Congress had for the first time passed a Federal law against flag “desecration”, in response to popular outrage over several flag-burnings in political protests against the Vietnam war. Hoffman v. United States is the first case to be tried against the new law. Hoffman takes advantage of this historic moment by telling the judge, Your honor, I regret that I have but one shirt to give for my country.
20 July 1969
Neil Armstrong places the US flag on the Moon. Lest this apparently imperialistic act be misunderstood, a plaque on the Eagle‘s ladder clarifies we came in peace for all mankind. That the US had beaten the USSR in this Cold War race to the Moon needed no clarification beyond the flag.
2 April 1970
20th Century Fox releases Patton, starring George C. Scott as controversial World War 2 General George C. Patton. The film, which won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, opens in an unforgettable fashion with the general, in front of a huge 48-star flag, addressing unseen troops in a monologue based on his speech to the Third Army.
5 April 1976
Photojournalist Stanley Forman captures lawyer and civil rights activist Ted Landsmark being attacked with the flag during an anti-desegregation protest outside Boston City Hall. Louis Masur’s 2008 book The Soiling of Old Glory: The Story of a Photograph That Shocked America unpacks its many layers of meaning.
22 March 1980
Len Silverfine‘s 7-ton, 210-by-411 foot “Great American Flag” is unveiled before 10,000 onlookers at the Evansville, IN airport. It’s never been hung from the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, as originally engineered, but has made 12 appearances, including two Flag Days at the Washington Monument (1980 and 1991) and at the Flight 93 crash site on 24 September 2001.
1984 August 22
Gregory “Joey” Johnson, a member of the US Revolutionary Communist Party, burns the flag at a political demonstration at Dallas City Hall during the 1984 Republican National Convention. He is arrested, charged with, and convicted of the crime of “desecration of a venerated object” under a Texas penal code. He appeals the conviction all the way to the US Supreme Court, which in 1989 rules in his favor in Texas v. Johnson, finding his act to be symbolic speech protected the the First Amendment.
Obligatory patriotism becomes a highly politicized national issue. In the 1988 presidential election, George H. W. Bush attacked his opponent Gov. Michael Dukakis’ 1977 veto of a Massachusetts law that would have required teachers begin each school day by leading students in the Pledge of Allegiance. As President, in 1989 Bush calls Dread Scott’s installation in Chicago “disgraceful”. The anti-flag protection decision Texas v. Johnson is announced in June. Less than a month later an outraged Congress passes a Flag Protection Act targeting, regardless of motive: whoever knowingly mutilates, defaces, physically defiles, burns, maintains on the floor or ground, or tramples upon any flag of the United States. Outraged, in turn, by this law — one that was specifically worded to outlaw his art — Dread Scott and three others burn flags on the US Capitol steps, and are arrested and charged with violating it. Their case, United States v. Eichman, is appealed to the Supreme Court which strikes down the 1989 Act, finding the government’s intent, despite claims to the contrary, to be to prohibit that same forms of symbolic speech the court had just ruled in Johnson were protected under the First Amendment. Following the Eichman ruling, general public interest peters out, as a predicted wave of flag burnings and underfoot tramplings fails to happen.
Richard R. Gideon is a flag maker and retailer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who since 2003 has been publishing American Vexillum™ Magazine (AVm). It started out as a monthly print publication, from 2003 to 2006, before moving online as a quarterly. Since 2012 it has been supplemented with daily updates of “topical news items of interest from across America, and international news items when they add value to the magazine’s topics”. Gideon batches up these daily updates and sends them out around twice a week to an email distribution list that is “exclusive, by request, and is not sold or distributed”.
While the magazine and distribution list certainly reflects its editor’s nationalist and libertarian point of view, much of the material that Gideon aggregates is of broad vexillological interest. Coverage of ongoing controversies in the US around flag display is particularly good. (And for full disclosure: Richard has been kind enough to feature the Portland Flag Association in his list of flag associations.)
To give a sense of the content, here are headlines from AVm’s “Flag News and Other Items of Interest from across America” update of 28 March 2015:
- Bill requires universities to fly US, Arkansas flags
- WWII souvenir returns home
- Maryland allows Confederate license plates, but blocks other messages
- Philly led the nation in adopting a city flag
- (IOWA) Flag Day Celebrations to Commence in Knoxville Saturday
- Confederate flag leads Windsor students and administrators to unexpected diversity week lesson
- New at the Museum: Vietnam exhibit, historic flags, “Life of the Lenape”
- Buy American: Florida bill requires US-made flags
- Report: Army uses ISIS flag in training, scares public
- Marine Reservist Spots Upside-Down American Flag, Has No Regrets for What He Did Next
- Westminster unanimously passes American flag protection resolution
- Japanese flags begin journey home [from The Daily Astorian here in Oregon]
- Auction planned to benefit flag restoration
- Liberals, Pro-Lifers Join Forces to Defend Confederate Tags Before Supreme Court
- House OKs Bill Providing Sales Tax Exemption for US Flag
- Students Ordered to Remove Flag Shirts Ask High Court to Hear Their Case
- OPINION: Don’t ban the flag of inclusiveness
- AMERICAN CULTURE: College Students: Stop Acting Like You’re Made of Sugar Candy [from Reason]
- Flag waiving [from The Economist]
- Let flag fly, Port Orchard tells museum operator
- Trevor Burrus discusses Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans on KTRH Morning News
- AMERICAN CULTURE: New Mexico’s Legislature Reforms Asset Forfeiture to Require Actual Guilt [from Reason]
- Supreme Court struggles with free speech dispute over Confederate flag license plate in Texas
- Celebrate 120th birthday of Philadelphia civic flag
- Confederate Flag License Plate Case Reaches Supreme Court
- Are Confederate flag license plates a First Amendment right?
- Ball State choice for award winner criticized for Confederate Flag remark
American Vexillum™ is online at gideonflags.com/AVM, and you can ask to be added to the mailing list by following the instructions posted there.
A popular flag in Portland is the “Doug Flag” of Cascadia, a favorite of the Timbers Army and secessionist Pacific Northwesterners.
Let’s look at some of its neighbors – tree flags of the world.
Norfolk Island Pine
By Patrick Genna
This quiz was popped on PFA members at the November  meeting.
Answers in the next issue… [Vexilloid Tabloid #38]
Name the U.S. state flag which…
- has a constellation
- has a pelican
- has a walking bear
- has a Union Jack
- is similar to the Dutch flag but with a charge
- is similar to the French flag but with a charge
- is based on the Stars and Bars
- has a Confederate Battle flag
- looks like a dollar bill
- has a sun as its charge
- has a palmetto tree
- has the letters “NC” (this question is like the “free” space in BINGO)
- has a copper star
- has a saltire (two states)
- is pennant-shaped
- has a buff-colored field
- has an anchor
- has a torch
- has a tribal shield
- has a buffalo
- is sometimes confused with the flag of Chile
- has a “diamond” (two states)
- has the word “REPUBLIC” on it
- is truly heraldic
- is quartered
No survey of flags in hip hop would be complete without acknowledging the controversial use by rappers, from time to time, of the Confederate flag. Two years ago this topic gained a great deal of attention when Kanye West put the flag on his clothing and merchandise while touring to promote his 2013 album Yeezus. He was widely quoted saying:
“React how you want. Like I said, any energy you got is good energy. You know, the Confederate flag represented slavery, in a way — that’s my abstract take on what I know about it, right? So I made the song ‘New Slaves.’ So I took the Confederate flag and made it my flag. It’s my flag now! Now what are you gonna do?”
He was strongly criticized by some black leaders and entertainers, notably Al Sharpton, for using a hated symbol of oppression as part of a publicity stunt to promote himself and his album. They urged consumers to boycott the album and merchandise — ineffectively, as over one million records were shipped by the end of the year. Others supported the bold move. In Uptown magazine Lincoln Anthony Blades wrote:
For Kanye, wearing the Confederate flag isn’t about mocking his ancestors, but appropriating something that white, conservative racists love, and letting them feel helpless as he denigrates everything it means to them.
This unimpeachable symbol of white power is now nothing more than a fashion statement that Kanye wants to OWN and minimize, just like Black culture and history is appropriated by whites everyday.
By now this tempest has mostly died away, but not entirely. A 2014 video by Ethiopian Canadian performer Abel Tesfaye, known as The Weeknd, raised some eyebrows for showing, briefly, a Confederate flag as room decor:
Produced by Toronto design and film studio “Kid.” Uploaded to YouTube Aug 28, 2014, it has currently reached over 8.7 million views.
Ally Schweitzer, writing for American University Radio in Washington, DC, just last month published a thoughtful essay entitled Can Hip-Hop Help Change The Meaning Of The Confederate Flag? It features an interview with a little known rapper from Alabama named Lazarus Thicklen II, who performs as Black Native, about his song and video Black Confederate.
Uploaded Dec 22, 2014, it currently has 577 views on YouTube.
…he says his Confederate flag isn’t the same one carried into battle under Robert E. Lee. For starters, Thicklen’s flag isn’t red, white and blue; it’s black and white. He says he wanted to retain the flag’s Southern symbolism while stripping its colors to transform its meaning. “I wanted to have something that said, ‘Yeah, I’m Southern, but I have a progressive mindframe,’” says Thicklen, 30.
Here is the design:
The idea in hip hop of reclaiming and reappropriating Confederate symbolism predates Kanye West and his successors. For example, here is a 2005 discussion entitled Appropriation of the Confederate flag by black rap artists. But none of these attempts, high or low profile, have managed to get significant cultural traction. Instead, they are more like a recurrent theme within the larger musical, cultural, and political forces pushing Hip hop forward in the face of other, more major appropriation controversies (e.g., Iggy Azalea vs. Azealia Banks, Macklemore’s Grammys, etc.).
To wrap things up, let’s give Chris Rock the last word:
From The Chris Rock Show on HBO in 2012.
Vexillologist Clay Moss has published a new essay about once and possibly future flags of the state of Mississippi. He writes:
As the current Mississippi flag has been burdened with controversy, particularly through the last quarter century, there has always been the idea that Mississippi’s Magnolia flag might again someday be adopted as the state’s flag. This document briefly examines the seven Magnolia flags that we are aware of today and provides a speculative look at what a possible new state flag might look like based on the original. More could possibly be rediscovered in the future, but for now, these are the ones we know about.
The future is here: It may only be May, but The Vexilloid Tabloid #34, June 2012, is available now! Featuring:
- South Dakota Proposal (Patrick Genna)
- Mystery Flag (Michael Orelove)
- Portland Cheers
and as always the “What’s that Flag?” or, in this issue’s version, “What’s that Roundel?” quiz (from quizmaster Max Liberman), and notes from our last meeting.