Heritage, Volume 18, Number 1, Winter 2000 Page: 4
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THE PRESIDENT'S MESSAGE
BY LEWIS A. JONES
This is a very special issue of HERITAGE
magazine. It has a somewhat different look,
and it is the first in many years to contain
color. It is the subject of this issue that the
board of directors felt warranted these special
touches. You see, in this particular issue
we look at Texas-related flags. In its simplest
terms, a flag is a piece of bunting or
other textile material of any shape and size
displayed on a staff or pole. That is the body
of a flag, but its soul is not so easily described.
The soul of a flag is a reflection of thoughts
and emotions, a pulsating time capsule.
Standards began as vexilloids, solid objects
carried at the tops of staffs. They were
made of skin, wood, bronze, or precious
metal and depicted an attribute of a god or
guardian spirit. Five centuries before Christ,
Egyptian armies carried tablets inscribed
with the pharoah's name.
That flags can stir emotion is found in the Book of Psalms:
"Terrible as an army with banners." Also, Moses called on the
people of Israel to "encamp each by his own standard, with the
ensigns of their father's houses."
The earliest known flags were used in China to indicate different
army groups. In Europe, the Roman cavalry used a square vexillum
(flag) to identify themselves. Soon, the flags in Western
Europe began to be clothed in religious symbolism.
It seemed natural to state sovereigns to exhibit these repositories
of extraordinary virtues symbolizing their divine choice to
vanquish the heathen hordes. The blue mantle of St. Martin and
the red banner of St. Denis inspired French troops for generations.
At the Battle of Hastings, Harold's Dragon Banner was
blessed by his English bishops; William had the benediction of
the Pope for his standard.
In the Middle Ages, heraldry became important as a means of
identifying kings and lords. The distinctive coats of arms that developed
were used as pennons, and some still exist today.
The most significant development of flags was for use at sea as a
means for identification and code signals. In fact, a seabore black
raven on a white field (the Viking's Sea Rover's Banner) was probably
the first flag raised on the North American continent by Erik
the Red or his son Leif, circa 1000 A.D. The "red ensign," a small
white upper canton with the ancient symbol of England -- the Cross
of St. George -- was planted in 1607 at Jamestown and in 1620 at
Plymouth. Christopher Columbus hoisted two flags in the Indes: a
personal flag of Ferdinand and Isabella and
the royal banner of Spain.
With the American and French Revolutions,
political flags came to be the most important
of all. The early rebels against British
rule in America had already added provocative
inscriptions to flags as early as 1774.
The most famous of these was the serpent
with the message, "Don't tread on me!" The
revolution popularized the use of stars as a
symbol of independence and liberty, and
from 1800 onward, more flags included stars,
previously a practically unknown emblem.
In 1839 Texas adopted the "Lone Star"
flag to represent the Republic, and it subsequently
became the state's banner. The
Texas flag is one of the most recognizable,
and it should be.
Flags have come to symbolize whole idePhoto
by Ann McDonald
ologies, as evidenced by the Nazi swastika.
Designed in 1920 by Hitler, it became the national flag of Germany
from 1935-1945, representing the Republic's nationalistic
and anti-semetic policy.
Unquestionably, the most misunderstood emblem is the Confederate
Battle Flag. This was a flag conceived out of necessity.
Designed with the distinctive St. Andrew's cross, Confederate
troops could readily establish identity and allegiance in the haze
and din of battle. The Battle Flag was never adopted by the Confederate
government as a national representative. Indeed, it has
been purloined by hate groups to advance an ideological cause
foreign to its original purpose. The controversy and resultant cacophony
has shrouded any legitimate dialogue on the proper placement
of this flag in history. Unfortunately, those that swagger
mendaciously from their smug high ground about its meaning do
so from ignorance -or worse, with a calculated distortion for a
political purpose. Therefore, it is shameful that the history, patriotism,
beauty, tragedy, nobility, and romance hidden in its folds,
emblemed in its design, and limned in the colors of the Confederate
Battle Flag could be discarded from the storehouse of history.
Flags are a metaphor for people infused with a patriotic and
grand purpose of life. These fabric icons continue today to inspire
and motivate, as evidenced by the interviews in this magazine
with several Texans who tell why they stepped forward to conserve
the flags of this state so that their importance in our legacy
could continue to be recognized.
God Bless Texas.
HERITAGE * 4 * WINTER 2000
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 18, Number 1, Winter 2000, periodical, Winter 2000; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45388/m1/4/: accessed December 17, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.