The Pan-African flag — also known as the UNIA flag, Afro-American flag and Black Liberation Flag — is a tri-color flag consisting of three equal horizontal bands of (from top down) red, black and green. The Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA) formally adopted it on August 13, 1920 in Article 39 of the Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World, during its month-long convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Variations of the flag can and have been used in various countries and territories in Africa and the Americas to represent Pan-Africanist ideologies. Several Pan-African organizations and movements have often employed the emblematic tri-color scheme in various contexts.
Colors and significance
The three Pan-African colors on the flag represent:
- Red: the blood that unites all people of Black African ancestry, and shed for liberation;
- Black: black people whose existence as a nation, though not a nation-state, is affirmed by the existence of the flag; and
- Green: the abundant natural wealth of Africa.
The flag was created in 1920 by members of UNIA in response to the enormously popular 1900 coon song "Every Race Has a Flag but the Coon," which has been cited as one of the three coon songs that "firmly established the term coon in the American vocabulary". A 1921 report appearing in Africa Times and Orient Review, for which Marcus Garvey previously worked, quoted Garvey regarding the importance of the flag:
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....
Journalist Charles Mowbray White has asserted that Garvey originally proposed the colors red, black and green for the following reasons: "Garvey said red because of sympathy for the 'Reds of the world', and the Green their sympathy for the Irish in their fight for freedom, and the Black- [for] the Negro."
The flag later became an African nationalist symbol for the worldwide liberation of people of African origin. As an emblem of Black pride, the flag became popular during the Black Liberation movement of the 1960s. In 1971, the school board of Newark, New Jersey, passed a resolution permitting the flag to be raised in public school classrooms. Four of the board's nine members were not present at the time, and the resolution was introduced by the board's teen member, a mayoral appointee. Fierce controversy ensued, including a court order that the board show cause why they should not be forced to rescind the resolution, and at least two state legislative proposals to ban ethnic or national flags in public classrooms other than the official U.S. flag.
In the United States, the flag is presently widely available through flag shops or ethnic specialty stores. It is commonly seen at parades commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, civil rights rallies, and other special events.
The flag goes by several other names with varying degrees of popularity:
- the UNIA flag, after its originators;
- the Marcus Garvey flag;
- the Universal African flag;
- the International African flag;
- the Black Liberation flag;
- the Pan-African flag;
- the Black Nationalist, African Nationalist, or the New Afrikan Liberation flag.
Although other designs are also considered to be International African flags or Pan-African flags, the horizontal stripes of red, black, and green, originated by the UNIA in 1920, is the design most often referenced.
June 14 is celebrated as Flag Day in the U.S. In 1999, an article appeared in the July 25 edition of The Black World Today suggesting that, as an act of global solidarity, every August 17 should be celebrated worldwide as Universal African Flag Day by flying the red, black, and green banner. August 17 is the birthday of Marcus Garvey.
- Wikisource contributors, "The Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World," Wikisource, The Free Library, The Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World (accessed October 6, 2007).
- 25,000 NEGROES CONVENE :International Gathering Will Prepare Own Bill of Rights. 1920. New York Times (1857-Current file), August 2, Proquest (Last accessed October 5, 2007)
- Special to The Christian Science Monitor from its Eastern News Office 1920. NEGROES ADOPT BILL OF RIGHTS :Convention Approves Plan for African Republic and Sets to Work on Preparation of Constitution of the Colored Race Negro Complaints Aggression Condemned Recognition Demanded. Christian Science Monitor (1908-Current file), August 17, Proquest (accessed October 5, 2007).
- "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), p43.
- Garvey Papers Vol. 2, p. 603.
- "Black Flag," unattributed article in TIME Magazine, December 13, 1971. (re Newark school board controversy)
- Afro-American flags at Flags of the World non-commercial vexillology site
- Sheet music from the American Memory website of the Library of Congress
- 'Fly the Red, Black, and Green' article proposing holiday at The Black World Today, July 25, 1999
- Kwanzaa Stamp U.S. postage depicting similar flag, with explanatory press release
- MoMA Learning an educational exercise based on David Hammons' African-American Flag
- UNIA official website
- Nusouth website and flag