It's a Grand New Flag

We selected five places with less-than-inspiring flags and commissioned new ones.

| July/August 2001

After decades of flapping in the breeze virtually unnoticed, state flags in recent years have become national news. All eyes were on Mississippi this spring as citizens voted on a proposed new flag that replaced the Confederate battle banner in the upper left-hand corner with a swirl of stars. It was overwhelmingly rejected. Georgia, on the other hand, recently adopted a new blue flag that relegates the Confederate banner (occupying two- thirds of the old flag) to a tiny patch beneath the state seal.

• See how your state flag ranked in a recent NAVA survey and get tips on how to design a good flag. Click here

The redesign of these flags, successful or not, sparked intense debates about the Confederacy and its fight to keep African Americans in slavery. But racism and brutal history are not confined to flags of the South. Take Minnesota, whose flag Alfred Znamierowski describes this way in The World Encyclopedia of Flags (Lorenz Books, 1999): 'The central scene displays a Native American giving way to a white settler.'

These debates also remind us how potent flags are as symbols. That’s why we find it odd that most of our 50 states fly such bland flags. In many cases it’s simply the state seal—usually an obscure and overly decorous scene—set on a blue or white background. From a distance, it’s difficult to tell apart the flags of Connecticut, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Utah, and Virginia. Meanwhile, Oregon, Montana, Wisconsin, and Kansas distinguish themselves only by their name—a less-than-imaginative solution. And the flags of many Canadian provinces are just as dull in their own way.

In an era when visual icons, from the Nike swoosh to anarchists’ black banners, have such cultural power, it seems baffling that so many states pass up the chance for a symbol that could win people’s attention and stir their souls. Texas and Quebec, for instance, have bold and attractive flags seen frequently on travel brochures, T-shirts, and other artifacts that promote both places’ proud sense of identity. The memorable flags of Maryland, Arizona, New Mexico, Tennessee, Colorado, South Carolina, the provinces of Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, the new Canadian territory of Nunavut, and the United States commonwealth of Puerto Rico leave us with a strong visual representation of those places.

Now is the perfect time, with folks in Georgia and Mississippi leading the way, for all of us to explore ideas for more striking and soul-stirring flags. To start the discussion and get everyone’s creative juices flowing, we commissioned design firms in Ontario, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Washington state, and Georgia to propose new flags for their homes. (While applauding Georgians for downsizing the Confederate imagery on their flag—which has adorned it only since 1956—we think they deserve something more distinctive than the usual state seal on a blue background.)

We hope these designs spark ideas about a new flag for the place you call home.


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