By Sarah DeClerk
Flags are heralds of unity. They embody a group’s history, values and dreams. In the early twentieth century, people of African descent faced abuse around the globe, and the African continent struggled under the chains of colonialism. Some black leaders felt the only way to regain economic and political potency was to unite the African Diaspora. Their labor gave birth to the pan-African flag.
It began with a taunt disguised as music, the 1901 hit, “Every Race has a Flag but the Co*n.” Such blatant racism disgusts most people today, but such songs were shockingly popular at the turn of the century. The jeer dug under the skin of Jamaican-born civil rights leader Marcus Garvey, who wrote, “Show me the race or the nation without a flag, and I will show you a race of people without any pride.”
At a convention in New York City’s Madison Square Garden in 1920, his organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL), corrected this discrepancy. They adopted the pan-African flag in their Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World. It was to be a flag to represent not only African-Americans, but people of African descent worldwide.
Garvey selected colors that symbolize black history and culture. They are arranged on the flag as a simple tricolor of red, black and green. Although their meanings have expanded overtime, Garvey chose red for the blood shed in the fight for liberation, black for the people as a unified nation and green for the motherland’s lush vegetation. Many flags of African countries incorporate this color scheme.
The years have brought a number of extrapolations of Garvey’s design. One common pan-African alteration shows a white outline of Africa in the center of the flag. In 2000, David Hammons created the African-American flag, an American flag that uses the pan-African colors. More recently, NuSouth fashions used the colors to create an alternative Confederate battle flag in response to the continued flight of what they consider to be a symbol of hatred, white supremacy and segregation.
During Kwanza, it is appropriate to decorate using Pan-African colors and to display the flag near the altar. Some have suggested flying the flag on Garvey’s birthday, August 17, but the idea has yet to take hold. Nonetheless, it can be spotted at civil rights protests and events, a proudly waved sign of heritage, unity and perseverance in the face of adversity.
BRAVE MEANING: noun: brave | 1.a brave person. | 2.to meet or face courageously:to brave misfortunes. | 3.to defy; challenge | 4.ready to face and endure danger or pain
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