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South Carolina historians settle on a new state flag design

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South Carolina's new proposed state flag.

A panel of historians were charged with picking a new design for the official South Carolina state flag. This is the design they settled on. Provided

COLUMBIA — A high-powered team of historians has done the research and determined what South Carolina's state flag should look like once and for all.

Rest assured, not much is changing.

The flag will still feature a white Palmetto tree and crescent against an indigo blue backdrop, a combination of historically significant elements that makes South Carolina's flag one of the most iconic banners in the country — and, arguably, one of the only good ones.

But next year, lawmakers will have a chance to nail down details of the design that have been in flux since the last official flag specifications were repealed in 1940.

The height and shape of the tree in the flag's center. The shade of indigo that colors the background. The thickness and angle of the crescent in the upper left hand corner — note: the crescent is not a moon, historians say. 

All have been left to the creative imagination of individual designers in lieu of specifications set out in state law.

That's why the Palmetto tree design on your ballcap might look skinnier than the one on your beer koozie. It's why the crescent on the flag atop the Statehouse dome might point a different direction than the one on your front porch flag.

But no more.

A team of history buffs empaneled by lawmakers in 2018 has studied the story of the S.C. flag, including its various shades and designs, and settled on a new model for the General Assembly to vote on when they reconvene in January.

Scott Malyerck, the Newberry political consultant who first proposed standardizing the state flag and served on the design committee, said the group worked hard to take elements of the design from its earliest roots, which date back to the Revolutionary War.

The group, which included acclaimed historian Walter Edgar and Department of Archives and History Director Eric Emerson, sought the help of archeologists and several museums to track down the earliest editions of the state flag. 

They based their selected shade of indigo — Pantone 282 C — on the color of the uniforms worn by Col. William Moultrie's 2nd South Carolina Regiment in the Revolutionary War.

1776 flag of the 2nd South Carolina Regiment in the American Revolution.

A screenshot of the 1776 flag that was flown by the 2nd South Carolina Regiment in the American Revolution. Provided

They determined the shape of the crescent by studying the crescent badges that Moultrie's soldiers wore on their caps during the war. The design committee couldn't determine exactly why the regiment chose the crescent as its symbol. But they don't believe it was meant to depict a moon, Malyerck said.

In some early editions of the flag, the crescent's tips were pointed directly upward, making it look very little like a crescent moon.

For a time, the regiment's flag included only the crescent against an indigo backdrop.

The Palmetto tree was added to the flag to honor Moultrie's June 1776 defeat of nine British warships that attacked his crudely made fort on Sullivan's Island in an effort to invade Charleston. The British pounded the soon-to-be-named Fort Moultrie with cannons for much of the nine-hour fight, but the fort was made with spongy palmetto logs that absorbed the cannonballs and minimized the damage.

The researchers even located and studied a 1776 painting of that battle, zooming in on the fort's flag to see how the crescent was positioned in the upper left hand corner.

"It's an important symbol for our state, and we ought to get it right," Malyerck said.

Sure, it's not the most critical issue the General Assembly will face in 2021.

But the proposal, filed by Republican state Sen. Ronnie Cromer of Newberry, also likely won't take much time to debate.

Supporters of the bill say they can't imagine why anyone would object.

State Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, says she plans to give the bill a hearing in the Senate Family and Veterans' Services Committee. She predicted it would coast to passage.

Reach Avery Wilks at 803-374-3115. Follow him on Twitter at @AveryGWilks.

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