Every Race Has a Flag but the Coon
"Every Race Has a Flag but the Coon" was a song written by Will A. Heelan, and J. Fred Helf that was popular in the United States and Britain. The song followed the previous success of "All Coons Look Alike to Me", written in 1896 by Ernest Hogan. H. L. Mencken cites it as being one of the three coon songs which "firmly established the term coon in the American vocabulary".
The song was a musical hit of the day by A. M. Rothschild and Company in 1901. New York's Siegel Cooper Company referred to it as one of his greatest bats in April a year later. The next month it was sung during "Music on the Piers" in New York, being the first song played at the Metropolitan Avenue pier. In his book The Movies That Changed Us: Reflections on the Screen, Nick Clooney refers to the song as part of the "hit parade" of popular music one could use to measure the temper of the times when The Birth of a Nation premiered in 1915. The tune is repeatedly referred to in the literature as having the ability to incite violence merely by its being whistled in the direction of an African American. It was also Marie Dressler's contribution to the 'coon' genre. Lottie Gilson, Williams and Walker, Frances Curran, Hodges and Launchmere, Libby and Bennett, Zoa Matthews, Johnnie Carroll, Clarice Vance, Gerie Gilson, Joe Bonnell, The Eldridges and "100 other artists" sang the song with "overwhelming success" according to its sheet music.
The song motivated the creation of the Pan-African flag in 1920 by the members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. In a 1921 report appearing in the Africa Times and Orient Review, Marcus Garvey was quoted as saying,
Show me the race or the nation without a flag, and I will show you a race of people without any pride. Aye! In song and mimicry they have said, "Every race has a flag but the coon." How true! Aye! But that was said of us four years ago. They can't say it now....
The lyrics to "Every Race Has a Flag but the Coon" include the musical meme "four eleven forty four".
- Heelan, Will. A. (1900). Every race has a flag but the coon. New York: Jos. W. Stern and Co. Retrieved 7 September 2014.
- Display Ad 15 -- No Title. (1901, September 15). Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1963),p. 45. Retrieved October 6, 2007, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers Chicago Tribune (1849 - 1986) database. (Document ID: 425880041)
- Display Ad 9 -- No Title. (1902, April 10). New York Times (1857-Current file), p. 7. Retrieved October 6, 2007, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2004) database. (Document ID: 101946057).
- DELAY IN GAMBLING CASES: Moral Value Lost Unless Prosecutions Are Speedy, Jerome Says.. (1902, May 30). New York Times (1857-Current file), 14. Retrieved October 6, 2007, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2004) database. (Document ID: 118471848).
- The Movies That Changed Us: Reflections on the Screen (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003), pp. 285-286.
- Marie Dressler: A Biography, With a Listing of Major Stage Performances, a Filmography and a Discography (Jefferson NC: McFarland & Company, December 1998).
- "New Flag for Afro-Americans," Africa Times and Orient Review; 1 (October 1912):134; Cited in RACE FIRST: The Ideological and Organizational Struggles of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1987), p. 43.