Posted on September 12, 2023

7 State Flags Still Have Designs With Ties to the Confederacy

Gillian Brockell, Washington Post, September 10, 2023

Amid the racial justice protests of 2020, when Confederate statues all over the country toppled, Mississippi became the last state to remove the Confederate battle flag from its state flag.

It was a moment of reckoning for the Lost Cause mythology about the Civil War that dominated much of the 20th century, but for visual artist Jason Patterson, the work is not done. Patterson, a 38-year-old Black man whose art focuses on African American history, is a self-professed “flag nerd” (more formally, a “vexillophile”), and his obsession with flags has taught him something few Americans realize: A number of state flags still commemorate — in ways both obvious and oblique — the bloody attempt to create a permanent slave society.

To Patterson, flags aren’t just images. “They are representations of people,” he said. “They can hold so much meaning.”


Not every flag with similarities to the Confederate battle flag has a definitive historical connection to secession or slavery. Three state flags — for Alabama, Florida and Tennessee — contain elements reminiscent of the battle flag and were adopted during the Jim Crow era but otherwise lack historical proof of an intentional link.

But seven state flags, including Maryland’s, have documented links to the Confederacy and white supremacy. Here they are, ranked from least to most obvious.


In June 1846, a couple dozen American men in what was then the Mexican region of Alta California took over an unarmed fort in Sonoma and raised a flag painted with a red star, a grizzly bear and the words “California Republic.” Some of them were maybe a bit drunk.

A few weeks later, a U.S. naval squadron showed up in Monterey, and its confused commanding officer raised the Stars and Stripes and claimed California for the United States. The “Bear Flaggers” lowered their banner, and four years and a war with Mexico later, California joined the Union as a free state, meaning slavery was banned. Decades later, in the early 20th century, a version of the Bear Flag became California’s state flag.


As the nation descended into civil war, Californians were fiercely split, and a number of communities flew the disused bear flag to express their support for secession and slavery. Some even proposed the Pacific states break off and form their own nation.

In 1911, the bear flag design became the official state flag, and once again the move was stained with racism, journalist Alex Abella wrote in a 2015 opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times. The flag had been revived again by the Native Sons of the Golden West, a Whites-only fraternal group that pushed anti-Asian immigration laws and whose president wrote in 1920, “California was given by God to a white people, and with God’s strength we want to keep it as He gave it to us.” The lawmaker who introduced the flag legislation in 1911 was a member of the group, according to Abella, and proposed anti-Asian legislation in the same legislative session.




During the Civil War, Virginians loyal to the United States established a state government in exile, first in Wheeling (now part of West Virginia) and then in Alexandria. This government used the same flag but replaced “Sic Semper Tyrannis” on the seal with the words “Liberty and Union.” Virginia kept using the “Liberty and Union” seal until 1873 — not long after former Confederates were allowed to vote again — when the legislature voted to remove “Liberty and Union” and go back to “Sic Semper Tyrannis.” It formally adopted this SOB flag design in 1912, and it has remained the state flag ever since.

North Carolina

Like Virginia’s, North Carolina’s state flag dates back to the Confederacy; a version of it was first established in June 1861. The dates inside the banners — May 20, 1775, and April 16, 1776 — obviously predate the Civil War, but they have a secessionist meaning.

According to popular theories in the decades before the Civil War, North Carolinians were the first to declare independence from Britain, with the so-called Mecklenburg Declaration on May 20, 1775, and the Halifax Resolves on April 12, 1776, beating the Second Continental Congress’s adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The Mecklenburg Declaration’s authenticity has been thoroughly debunked, and the importance of the Halifax Resolves debated, but the flag today is little changed from its Confederate genesis.

In 1885, the blue and red fields were swapped, and the lower date — which used to be May 20, 1861, the day North Carolina seceded from the United States — was changed to April 12, 1776, at the suggestion of a former Confederate soldier.

South Carolina

The Palmetto Flag with the crescent and blue background has been South Carolina’s flag since Jan. 28, 1861 — five weeks after the state seceded from the Union and kicked off the Civil War. The Confederacy hadn’t formed yet, so the South Carolina secessionists who adopted it were actually establishing a national flag for the short-lived solo republic, according to historian Charles Edward Cauthen.




Tens of thousands of Marylanders fought on both sides of the conflict and used historical flags to declare their loyalties. Union Marylanders flew the black-and-gold Calvert flag, the heraldry of the Calvert family that founded the Maryland colony. Confederate Marylanders flew the white-and-red Crossland flag, believed to be the heraldry of the Crossland family, from which George Calvert’s mother descended.

Though used during the Colonial era in Lord Baltimore’s coat of arms, both heralds had fallen out of use after the Revolutionary War. In 1854, the Maryland government revived the black-and-gold image for a new state seal. In response, pro-secession Marylanders revived and co-opted the Crossland flag in opposition; they also wore Crossland socks, cravats and even children’s clothing, according to the Maryland secretary of state’s website. The Crossland flag became so closely associated with support for the Confederacy that during the Civil War, wearing red and white could get you charged with treason, according to Baltimore Magazine. Neo-Confederates still display the Crossland flag today as a symbol of white supremacy.

When the two heralds combined became the official state flag in 1905, lawmakers claimed it was a symbol of reconciliation and unity — symbolism cited by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) as recently as 2017. {snip}



The Arkansas state flag oozes Confederate battle flag vibes: The St. Andrew’s Cross with stars has morphed into a diamond shape, but the angles and colors are all the same. But that’s not the big issue with it so much as the blue star over the word “Arkansas.” That star, according to the Ku Klux Klan member who put it there, stands for the Confederacy and was intentionally placed above the three blue stars representing the other nations Arkansas has been part of: France, Spain and the United States.



In modern times, what a lot of people know as the “Confederate flag” — a blue St. Andrew’s Cross with white stars on a red field — was actually the Confederate battle flag. The official flag of the Confederate States of America, colloquially called the “Stars and Bars,” was different. And if you’re wondering what it looked like, well, take a gander at Georgia’s state flag: Remove the seal from the circle of stars, and voilà, you’ve got the official flag of the Confederacy.

As obvious as this flag’s Confederate origins are, it’s perhaps a little better than the flag that came before it. From 1956 to 2001, Georgia’s state flag was a Confederate battle flag with the state seal stamped on one side. According to a state report commissioned in 2000, it was instituted in 1956 specifically as a show of defiance in the face of the federal government’s efforts to end school segregation.