While people were putting their finishing touches on planned Juneteenth activities in the county, legislation involving history was introduced by the current District 5 councilman on the 7th day of the legislative session (June 5). I’ll be the first to say that I wasn’t monitoring council activities closely (it’s summer, beach season etc) and didn’t know it was happening until a person I consider to be a friend recently alerted me about it. Most of the current legislation are resolutions for board and commission appointments (the application process for which was just reported to have been updated by the C.E. to make it more transparent etc henceforth), but there are six bills as of today. The HoCo By Design bill is foremost in most minds and mine. But CB31 is pretty important because it seeks to intend to make “Howard County Flag Day” a permanent reality and significant thing here. Anyone hearing the news recently that our neighbor Frederick County just changed their county flag this month may have given some thought to our own. Our flag was put into place as the official flag during a time in our history when racial relations were at a fever pitch. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 was passed on April 10, 1968, one week after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Things were going to be changing in the county in the arena of housing just as it had been changed regarding desegregation of schools (not fully achieved in the county until 1965, almost 10 years after Brown v Board of Ed). As the Executive Director of a local history nonprofit, I don’t often have reason to provide written testimony in my professional capacity either for or against proposed county legislation, but last week I felt I had to and did. Here’s why…
I’m going to do my best to not make this personal or about Republican/Democrat while I know I can’t control those who will. I’ve never met the District 5 county councilman, and I am aware that in last year’s election he got a surprise endorsement by a group (and I do mean surprise) which caused a lot of people to take away the message that you should look at the INDIVIDUAL candidate as opposed to their political party exclusively. I don’t know the motivations of the councilman, and they don’t have to disclose who may be influencing/requesting their proposed legislation so I probably will never know.
What I do know is that history narratives are changing in the county for the historical sites that still exist. In our county, most of the sites and former plantations that turned into farms were bulldozed over in order to create Columbia which was built on top of them. I also know that in 1968, a newspaper article reported that our county got a new official flag. That flag is the subject of legislation that seeks to change the county Code in order to compel County Executives to embrace and celebrate that particular flag design. I have questions about how public of a process it really was and if it was a process that captured the wishes of the many as opposed to those of a few. Those of us that research and study Maryland and local history know a lot about how the political regime worked back then (this is why they say that “history is political”) and POWER had everything to do with most things. Still does. The article itself that is being used for some of the history of the flag is interestingly right beside an article titled “Races Meet in Salisbury” in which the topic of discussion was the hope of easing racial tensions on the same day that our county flag was being flown over the circuit courthouse for the first time. The interracial commissions (state and local) are a topic area I’ve been researching and compiling info about since last year. Our county had one too, and the local commission I co-chair has been patiently waiting for the county to try to locate records involving it for months now for our use, and I’ll just write that it’s ALL fascinating history that our nonprofit is planning to bring to the community through future programming. Records First though, to get it right!
A few months prior, Elbert Flurry wrote an editorial to the same newspaper in which he expressed his views about the commissioners and other things in the county:
I’m not sure if Elbert was a Black public school teacher that moved to the county, but here is one I found in 1950 living in Pennsylvania:
While I have personal thoughts about the design that was voted to be the winner by people who I don’t believe to have been reflective of all of the county populace while Rouse was building Columbia, I have concern that the legislation goes too far to make it that we can’t embrace another flag design in the future that might seek to deliberately capture the wishes of all of the populace that would be subject to it. Particularly since no other jurisdiction could be found to have done this with their jurisdiction’s code. Worcester County on the Eastern Shore (think Ocean City) has an Editor’s Note that travels with their code, and it mentions who created their flag design but it only mentions the desire to describe the design elements… Not make a separate binding Flag Day out of it with proclamation obligations, etc.
Want to be clear that this isn’t about the work that Jean Hannon did for the flag (she had the winning design), who I won’t pretend to know personally as local preservationists in the county did. She and the organization she led was partly responsible for the preservation of the log house now sitting on Main Street, so I respect her love and dedication for the preservation of local structures that we can all enjoy today because they were saved. However, the “white European settler” narrative that was created about that structure in the 1970s obscured the truth about the actual pre Civil War Black origins of that structure that was built by a Mulatto man named Levi for his free wife and children. A research initiative of three researchers (myself included) that was sponsored by our nonprofit is what led to this fantastic historical discovery. We hoped for that new narrative/history to be shown for visitors in May to celebrate important history dates, and then Juneteenth, to no avail unfortunately. We are patiently waiting for our county to complete the necessary approvals for the language we suggested for the materials that will be inside (based upon our research that we shared with them).
Jean Hannon died without knowing this newly discovered history, but I’d like to imagine that she’d be receptive of the change as opposed to doubling down in order to resist it. Hannon is part of history now, having designed a flag in her lifetime. I’m sure she never expected that it’d be the one and only flag the county would ever have.
My testimony on behalf of our nonprofit submitted to the council on Thursday June 22nd via councilmail:
*Note: the county (in green) is wrapped in a gold triangle meant to represent the county’s industrial future, according to the newspaper article. This must have been meant to represent changes due to Columbia being built.
A survey of other jurisdictions and reference to flags:
ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY:
CALVERT COUNTY (NO PROVISION IN THEIR CODE):
DORCHESTER COUNTY (NO PROVISION IN THEIR CODE):
FREDERICK COUNTY (NO PROVISION IN THEIR CODE):
WORCESTER COUNTY (CONTAINS REFERENCE TO DESIGN PERSON):
WICOMICO COUNTY (NO FLAG, BUT THIS IS SEAL INFO):
OUR CURRENT COUNTY CODE: