Two N.C. State University civil engineering students, Wyat Hamilton and Adam Fleischer, gave a Flag Day virtual presentation on Wednesday to unveil proposed new state flag designs.
The presentation was split into three sections, first outlining the history of the current flag, the development of their own designs, and then showing the success stories of other states in changing their state flags.
The last change to the state flag was in 1991 when a House bill amended the flag’s design to remove commas in the flag’s dates and change its dimensions, making the blue bar wider for visibility.
Hamilton and Fleischer relied on standards provided by the North American Vexillological Association (NAVA) as a basis for their designs.
The five basic principles of flag design are:
- Keep it simple
- Use meaningful symbolism
- Use 2-3 basic colors
- No lettering or seals
- Be distinctive or be related
Hamilton and Fleischer contended that the current state flag does not pass these principles. For example, the large single white star does not stand for anything distinctive or meaningful for the state.
“The single star itself isn’t new at all and isn’t particularly related to North Carolina,” Wyatt stated. There is also “no particular symbolism belonging to the flag except general America, red, white star on a blue field.”
Additionally, having the state initials on the flag alongside the two prominent dates obstructs the historic purpose of the flag to be recognized from a distance, according to the duo.
“Admittedly, we could have had a seal on our state flag, instead we have text which is a very bad idea when it comes to flags. Text is extremely difficult for me when flags are flying,” Hamilton said during his presentation.
As Hamilton pointed out, if you remove the initials and dates from the state flag, all you get is an “upside down Texas flag.”
New design proposals
The new designs are centered around two primary ideas: the Guilford Courthouse flag or lighthouses.
The burgundy and indigo colors, as well as the eight-pointed star on some of the designs are derived from the Guilford Courthouse flag. According to oral history, the N.C. militia flew the flag during the battle of Guilford Courthouse on March 15, 1781 as part of the American Revolution.
The other set of designs uses lighthouses inside golden diamonds on a dark blue background to represent the state.
“Discussing with friends and family about the North Carolina flag, I heard [them] time and again mention that they would like to see a lighthouse,” Hamilton said. “Lighthouses are so unique to North Carolina and a unique part of Carolinian identity.”
The lighthouses symbolize “protection from danger, [and] a hope of safety” while the “gold diamond represents prosperity [and] the points from left to right represent the prosperity in our state from East to West.” While the up and down points “represent prosperity extending from our shores up to our mountains, all the way from the waves in front of the cape lookout up to the peak of Mount Mitchell.”
Meanwhile, the blue field represents “freedom, faith, and state.”
“The presentation was informative from a creative design perspective, yet it lacked an in-depth discussion of history,” said Dr. Troy Kickler, Senior Fellow and Managing Director of the North Carolina History Curriculum Project at the John Locke Foundation. “The dates on the current state flag are important. The Halifax Resolves of April 12, 1776, for instance, is why North Carolina is known as “First in Freedom.”
Current flag controversy
The current flag holds two dates hovering above and below of the state’s initials on the blue leftmost side. The date on the bottom: April 12, 1776 represents the adoption of the Halifax Resolves which was when “North Carolina’s assembly authorized delegates to go to the Continental Congress to vote for independence,” according to NCpedia, a State Library-run website.
However, the other date, May 20, 1775 is controversial because of its alleged historical inaccuracy. The date represents the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, in which residents of Mecklenburg County “declared themselves ‘free and independent people,’” according to NCpedia.
An 1800 fire allegedly destroyed the original document but was reconstructed by memory by one of the supposed original signers of the document John McKnitt Alexander. Additionally, William Polk, one of the organizers of the alleged meeting, gathered testimony “from several elderly men who claimed to have been present,” according to NCpedia.
Suspicions of the validity of the event arose after the publication of the works of Thomas Jefferson in 1829. In a letter to John Adams, Jefferson dismissed the Mecklenburg Declaration as a hoax.
The state legislature then created a committee to investigate the authenticity of the Mecklenburg Declaration led by Thomas G. Polk, the organizer of the Declaration’s 50th-anniversary celebrations. Consequently, the committee concluded that the document was legitimate.
“Historians question whether the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence occurred,” said Kickler. “There is no documentation of the event.”
The Mecklenburg Resolve was a verified document written eleven days after the Mecklenburg Declaration was supposedly signed. This led many to believe that the Mecklenburg Declaration couldn’t have been signed so close to the Mecklenburg Resolve and not be verified similarly. The Mecklenburg Resolve strongly condemned the British for the battles of Lexington and Concord, the first military engagements of the American Revolutionary War.
“I do believe, however, that the spirit of the Mecklenburg Declaration abounded on May 20. Yet, there is no documentation,” Kickler stated.
The General Assembly is responsible for making any changes to the state flag, where it would then have to seek approval from the Governor if passed by legislators.
Hamilton and Fleischer said that they do not expect immediate action on a change to the flag, instead stating they wanted to start a “conversation” on the issue.
However, the duo said they would like the State House to take the issue seriously within the next few years, having already met with legislators, believing it is essential for North Carolina state pride.
“I just want North Carolina to have a good symbol for our state…we want the people of this state to have a good symbol,” said Hamilton.