It was on October 24, 1915 that President Daniel E. Howard signed into law an Act of Legislature declaring August 24th a national holiday to be observed as national Flag Day with appropriate ceremonies befitting the day. In the wisdom of the Legislature at the time, the declaration was intended to offer the people of Liberia a chance to realize the national flag as a symbol of pride, fidelity and dignity.
In the United States of America, Flag Day is celebrated each year on June 14 to commemorate the day on which the country adopted its flag, popularly known as the stars and stripes. According to historical accounts, the celebration was officially recognized by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, to mark the date in 1777 when the Second Continental Congress selected the American flag.
The adoption of the Liberian flag on August 24, 1847 came just about a year following the declaration of independence on July 26, 1847 with both Flag Day and Independence being only one month apart. Thus, for a period of one year, Liberia had no official flag. But Liberia, founded in 1822 by freed men and women of color from the United States of America, had always had a flag until the adoption of the current flag on August 24, 1847.
According to historical accounts, an April 9, 1827 Resolution of the Board of the American Colonization Society states the following:
“As a flag is requested for our colony at Liberia, and as it is proper to make the flag as nearly like the Flag of the United States, being dependent thereon, yet sufficiently distinct to designate it as the Flag of the African Colony, resolved that the Flag of the United States be adopted, omitting the stars and substituting therefore a white cross in the center of the azure field”.
From this account we learn that Liberia’s first flag, patterned after that of the US flag, consisted of 13 red and white stripes representing the thirteen original colonies of the United States of America with the difference being a Cross on a blue azure field.
Following declaration of independence on July 26, 1847 a committee of seven women was constituted to design a new flag for Liberia. The committee headed by Susannah Lewis included Susannah Lewis, Matilda Newport, Rachel Johnson, Mary Hunter, J.B. Russwurm, Colonette Teage, and Sara Draper.
These seven women were all born in the United States of America. Susannah Lewis and Sarah Draper came from Philadelphia; Mary L. Hunter from South Carolina; Rachel Johnson, Matilda Newport and Mrs. J. B. Russwurm were from Baltimore, Maryland, and Colonette Teage Ellis was from Virginia.
The eleven red and white stripes represent the eleven signers of the Declaration of Independence; the red represents valor and courage and the white represents purity. The white star represents the first black independent republic in Africa and the dark blue field represents Africa, then known as the Dark Continent. Liberia’s Declaration of Independence was written by Hilary Teage and twelve men from the three original counties, Sinoe, Montserrado and Grand Bassa, who served as delegates to the constitutional convention.
According to historical accounts, the new Liberian flag hoisted atop Cape Mesurado was first saluted by a British warship on a Sunday but the Liberians refused to acknowledge it so the British naval captain had to replay the entire scene on Monday. In those days, a Flag salute was quite a big deal because it was tantamount to recognition of sovereignty. But in 1845, prior to declaration of independence in 1847, a Liberian ship flying the flag with the cross was seized by a British Warship which considered the flag illegal. British warships operating against the slave trade at the time did not recognize the Liberian flag (Cross flag) and, in order to legitimize it, the colony of Liberia declared independence in 1847. Liberia thus stands out as perhaps as the only country in the world to have gained independence because of its national flag.
But the flag is a distinctive emblem of a particular nation. It embodies its values, culture and traditions. In Liberia all students are required to pledge allegiance which reads: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of Liberia and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all”.
Today, however, that pledge sounds hollow as justice remains elusive for most Liberians, the liberties of the people appear threatened by violence, restrained by oppressive laws, and undermined by a partisan approach to law enforcement.
Further, rising inequality, i.e., unequal access to opportunities for self-actualization and the unequal and highly skewed distribution of national wealth is posing grave threats to the indivisibility of the nation already being undermined by dangerous sectionalist clamors from some quarters for the split of existing counties only to whet the greedy appetites of opportunistic charlatans and quack politicians. This leaves one to question what the meaning of the flag is if the ideals it represents can be trampled upon with impunity.
Liberians, especially those in positions of national leadership, ought to realize that the “Lone Star” stands in grave danger of sinking beneath the waves if the nation continues on its current trajectory. We all must do all we can to avert this danger. We must never allow our nation to fail-No Never! The words of our revered national song, “The Lone Star Forever” exhorts us thus:
Then, forward, sons of Freedom, March!
Defend the sacred heritage!
The nation’s call from age to age
Where’er it sounds ‘neath heaven’s arch,
Wherever foes assail,
be ever ready to obey
‘Gainst treason and rebellion’s front,
‘Gainst foul aggression. In the brunt
Of battle lay the hero’s way!
All hail, Lone Star, all hail!
This is the rallying call to which we all must heed. Liberia/the Lone Star must never be allowed to sink beneath the waves.