The national flag of the United States of America, often referred to as the American Flag or U.S. flag, has been a source of pride for Americans ever since the Continental Congress authorized its creation on June 14, 1777. When we properly display this powerful symbol, we signal our respect for our nation, its history, its principles and its people. America was the first country to be founded on the premise that the freedom and liberty of the citizen is the primary objective of the government.
The U.S. flag, also known by the nicknames of Old Glory, the Star-Spangled Banner, or the Stars and Stripes, is as much a part of the American identity as baseball, apple pie, and 4th of July fireworks. Starting with the Betsy Ross flag and its circle of stars (Ross was an early American businesswoman who contributed to America’s founding), the design has changed over the years as new states were added. Still, for over 200 years, the flag has always been an important national symbol of freedom and patriotism for anyone who loves America and the American way of life.
American Flag Symbolism
The red, white, and blue color scheme of the U.S. flag is symbolic of the highest ideals of American life. The color white signifies purity and serenity; red signifies hardiness and valor; and blue signifies vigilance, perseverance, and justice. It can also be said that the red and white stripes represent the blood spilled in defense of this nation by innocent Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. Blue represents the sky and the oceans from both shores of America (“from sea to shining sea”).
The flag’s 13 horizontal stripes represent the original 13 colonies. Each of the stars stands for one of the states in the union. (The modern 50-star flag was designed by Robert Heft, a high school junior, as a history project!) According to the House of Representatives’ 1977 book about the flag, “The star is a symbol of the heavens and the divine goal to which man has aspired from time immemorial; the stripe is symbolic of the rays of light emanating from the sun.”
Memorial & Commemorative Flags
Prominent in military funerals is the casket draped with an American flag, in honor of the sacrifices made while the person served his or her country. Military funerals include a ceremony in which the honor guard removes the flag from the casket and carefully folds it into a triangle, with the blue field of stars facing up. The folded flag is presented to the deceased person’s family as a token of gratitude for that person’s service, a gift to the family of the veteran on behalf of the Armed Forces and President of the United States.
Many people were outraged when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi gifted Philonise Floyd, the brother of murder victim George Floyd, a triangular folded, encased American flag during a photo-op. What they may not know is that the United States Capitol Flag Program provides American flags flown over the U.S. Capitol to members of Congress for giving to constituents on special occasions or for commemorative reasons. So, while presenting Floyd with a flag that flew over the Capitol on the day of his brother’s murder was perfectly acceptable, it appeared disrespectful to bestow it in the manner reserved for honoring the nation’s military veterans. (The flags from the Capitol Flag Program come in a rectangular box.)
Standing for Freedom
The U.S. flag represents a country built on liberty and the dignity of the individual, where people are free to better themselves and rise above whatever economic circumstances they were born into – to seek the American dream. That is why you see our flag used as a powerful symbol to those yearning for freedom around the globe. In Hong Kong, for example, the American flag has been flown at pro-democracy protests as a symbol of resistance against China. (See here and here.)
By standing for the American flag and treating the flag with respect, you are showing respect for the country in which you live, the freedoms it provides, and the brave individuals who have protected those freedoms throughout history. For information about how to display the American flag, here is an infographic from USA.gov: