Our Stars and Stripes deserve recognition on this national day of importance.
June 14th is National Flag Day and it gives Americans the opportunity to reflect on this nation’s colors and their significance.
What is not well-known is that today is also characterized by its continuing struggle for recognition.
In June 2011, Adam Goodheart wrote an article in The New York Times that called Flag Day “the runty stepchild among American national holidays.”
The reasoning here is clear – Flag Day, which is not a federal holiday, falls between the much more acknowledged Memorial and Independence Days, which are federal holidays.
“No one ever hosts a Flag Day cookout or sends a Flag Day greeting card,” Goodheart continued, and even “the most customer hungry car dealers don’t advertise Flag Day sales.”
The Move to Recognition
On June 14, 1777 the Second Continental Congress resolved to officially designate theStars and Stripes as the newly formed nation’s flag.
At that time, the banner was viewed as an article of military equipment that was essential for identification and communication. Moreover, flag makers like Betsy Ross were suppliers of military goods.
“People associate our love of the flag with 1776 and the American Revolution,” Goodheart explained in his book, 1861: The Civil War Awakening, “when it actually has perhaps more to do with 1861 and the Civil War.”
The war was transformational in an evolving America, and as such the citizens of this country began to view the flag as a banner to admire and honor.
Perhaps at the urging of Hartford, Connecticut residents Johnathon Flynt Morris and/or George Morris (the record is not clear), on June 10, 1861 Charles Dudley Warner, editor of the Hartford Evening Press, penned an editorial urging that a national holiday honoring the flag take its place alongside – and several weeks earlier than – Independence Day.
“It may be too late for its general observance this year, but we hope that it will, in time, be recognized wherever the American flag floats. We mean FLAG DAY,” he wrote.
Warner’s comments struck an emotional chord. As the Civil War commenced, the mass-produced Stars & Stripes took on a greater meaning of patriotism as they began to appear on houses, storefronts, and above village greens.
The Drive for National Flag Day
At the end of the War Between the States, four individuals took up the standard to convince Congress to authorize a national flag day.
Bernard J. Cigrand: In 1885 this elementary school teacher in Waubeka, Wisconsin put a small American flag into an inkwell on his desk and then told his class to write about patriotism. He later traveled the nation promoting respect for the flag.
William T. Kerr: Founder of the American Flag Day Association of Western Pennsylvania in 1888, he personally visited Presidents William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman to lobby for the 1949 Flag Act of Congress.
George Balch: A New York City elementary school teacher, in 1889 he planned Flag Day ceremonies for the city’s children. His idea for doing this was later adopted by the State Board of Education of New York.
Elizabeth Duane Gillespie: A descendent of Benjamin Franklin, in 1893 she began a drive that resulted in Pennsylvania becoming the first state to establish Flag Day as a legal holiday.
Three Presidential Efforts
At William Kerr’s insistence, Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge issued a formal proclamations for Flag Day in 1916 and 1927, respectively.
In 1949, Congress approved a resolution officially recognizing June 14th of each year as Flag Day. On August 3rd of that year, President Harry Truman signed the Flag Act of Congress recognizing today as National Flag Day.
Given the history of the flag and the efforts of those to honor it, today is no “runty” holiday.
Fly the flag high.