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CityWatch: Hands off our great state flag

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A not new South Carolina state flag

South Carolina has its problems. But our state flag isn’t one of them.

Indeed, the Palmetto tree and crescent banner is widely considered THE BEST state flag in America (including being rated No. 1 by the State Flag Facts website in 2015).

Not only do we know it and love it, so do people across the nation. And beyond.

So naturally, the Legislature set out to change it. Specifically, lawmakers authorized and funded the South Carolina State Flag Study Committee in 2018, charging its members with “proposing an official, uniform design for the state flag based on historically accurate details.”

Yes, the same geniuses who gave us the Base Load Review Act also gave us what might be called the State Flag Review Act. And the two initiatives have worked out about equally well.

While the former buried billions of our dollars in a hole at a Fairfield County nuclear plant, the latter threatens to bury billions worth of marketing identity, goodwill and state pride in a hole in the collective head of the Legislature.

Kidding aside (and I’m sure the lawmakers had good intentions), why can’t elected officials just leave well enough alone? Or in this case, leave pure excellence alone.

The South Carolina state flag is about as good as it gets, combining two simple but meaningful symbols on a lush blue background that leaves an indelible impression in terms of both art and history.

And that would be favorable, non-controversial history. Unlike other Southern states, we’ve been spared the divisive battles over state flags that incorporated Confederate symbols for more than a century after the end of the Civil War.

Instead, our flag stems from the American revolution.

The Palmetto tree on the flag pays tribute to the palmettos which were cut and stacked to defend Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island from attack by the British. The dense but spongy trunks of the palmettos absorbed the impact of British cannon balls, helping win an important battle on the road to independence and establishment of the new nation.

And the crescent above the Palmetto tree finishes the flag off perfectly. Whether it is historically accurate as to the type of moon on the night of the battle, I don’t know. Or care. It’s just cool.

Conversely, not cool was the Legislature’s directive to a group of academics to revise the flag to be more historically accurate in terms of the graphic depictions of the Palmetto tree and crescent moon.

That, in turn, was to lead to a “standardized” state flag (something you may not have known was lacking, I certainly didn’t).

At any rate, the study committee came up with a revised flag design that may be historically accurate but is also hysterical.

Hysteria aside, this is no laughing matter. Our flag would instantly go from first to worst if the revised design were adopted, becoming an object of ridicule rather than respect, memes rather than memories.

From transforming the magnificent tree we’re accustomed to on our flag into what could only be called a Charlie Brown Palmetto tree, and from implying that the crescent moon isn’t even a moon but rather is a crescent (go figure), the committee showed that as flag designers, they make great historians.

Fortunately, reaction to the god-awful new design was quick, overwhelming and decisive. While I am generally not a fan of social media mobs, I salute the one which stood up to defend our unique and uniquely beautiful flag.

A salute to the study committee as well, who instead of closing ranks and defending their historically accurate but graphically anemic work answered the uproar as follows: “Message received.”

They’ve gone back to work on a new version, which hopefully will be the widely known and much loved one we already had.

And dum spiro spero to that.

Fisher is president of Fisher Communications, a Columbia advertising and public relations firm. He is active in local issues involving the arts, conservation, business and politics. 

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