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The Flag of the District of Columbia
Mark David Richards
June 2001




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The Flag of the District of Columbia

Prepared by Mark David Richards, mark@bisconti.com

A Dream, Bureaucracy, Agitation, and a Flag

In their own little ways, DC citizens have always been dreaming about and agitating for equal rights. In 1917, while working for a printing firm on a flag book for the 48 states, Charles A. R. Dunn noticed there was no flag for his DC home. In 1921 he sketched a design using George Washington's Coat of Arms, with three red stars above two red stripes on a white field. At that time, the Voteless League was set up by former women’s suffrage campaigners--they became the Voteless League of Women Voters of DC. By 1924, there was "considerable agitation" for a DC flag. The Evening Star printed Dunn's drawings. The Fine Arts Commission weighed in, saying a DC flag must emphasize that "DC is the seat of the central government of all states." Dr. William Tindall of the DC government pointed out that the 3 stars could be said to represent the 3 federal branches. The issue, unresolved, died down. But the drive for rights did not. Theodore W. Noyes, in a nationwide WMAL radio address in March 1929, asked "Will not every red-blooded American who hears me tonight respond hopefully and vigorously to the District’s appeal for political equality? How long, O Americans, must we of Washington be compelled to say and to sing: ‘My county, ‘tis of thee Not land of liberty, For District folks; Where rights for which the fathers died Are now denied and crucified, Mock’d at as jokes’?"

A 1930s drive for Congressional voting rights and home rule led to a flurry of articles and comics. The DC commissioners were called "a national laughing stock," and the DC govt. an ineffective "Adventure in Autocracy." In 1933, young African-American college grads from the U Street community organized the New Negro Alliance, demanding that businesses hire some people they served. They picketed businesses and were arrested. It took until 1938 for African-American lawyers to establish the legal right to picket by the Supreme Court. Also in 1938, a Citizens’ Conference of 271 local organizations financed a plebiscite with two questions—"[D]o you want to vote for President and for members of Congress from the District of Columbia?, and do you want to vote for officials of your own city government in the District?" The District Suffrage League set up voting places in 38 public schools, and on April 29th dressed up like Paul Revere and paraded in the streets to publicize the event. 95,538 people voted on April 30th, most supporting both measures. In June 1938, a Flag Commission was created by Act of Congress to advise the Commission of Fine Arts. A contest was announced. The Heraldic Division of the War Department laid down rules. Dunn submitted his design. The Flag Commission couldn't decide between two designs, so they submitted both to the Commission on Fine Arts. In October, a joint meeting of the 2 Commissions chose Dunn's design. Along with the US flag, DC could now fly their flag along with the other 48. They gained an early symbol, but still no vote in their schools, in their local government, nor in Congress. In 1961, Dunn said "I think it is a good flag, and I am glad that an early dream of mine came true."

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