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What's in a flag? Nashville's gets mediocre marks [The Tennessean]

Home > News > What's in a flag? Nashville's gets mediocre marks [The Tennessean]

By BRAD SCHRADEStaff Writer Does Nashville need a new flag? According to a recent survey that rated the attractiveness of 150 city flags nationwide, the blue and gold Nashville flag could use an update. It's emblazoned with the Metro government seal, which shows a Native American holding a skull. The Nashville flag came in at No. 43. The Washington, D.C., flag got top honors as best flag, while the Pocatello, Idaho, flag was rated worst. Memphis was the only other Tennessee city included, and it finished at No. 54. A member of the flag scholar group, North American Vexillological Association, which sponsored the survey, said Nashville's flag has two clear problems with its design. One, Nashville's flag has the Metro seal, a no-no in flag design, because such seals are busy and difficult to discern from far away, said Ted Kaye, the survey organizer for the association. Second, the gold stripe down the outside of the Nashville flag isn't very functional because flags fray and occasionally the outer edge needs shaving. The stripe doesn't make this maintenance very easy, Kaye said. ''It's a C grade,'' Kaye said. ''There's not a lot of competition. However, I'd say in every bad flag, there's a good flag trying to get out.'' Kaye, when asked, suggested Nashville consider changing its flag to make it more simple, attractive and distinguishable. He suggested examining the previous Nashville flag that was the official flag before Nashville and Davidson County governments merged to form Metro government in 1963. The old flag had a blue star in the center and two white bars that crossed each other against a red background ''I would look at the previous flag because it is part of your history,'' Kaye said. ''If I were on the committee, I would say let's see how we can simplify the previous flag.'' With a touch of civic pride, Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell wasn't quite in agreement with the survey or the need to change the flag that flies over 62 Metro government sites, including City Hall. ''My first inclination is to ask for a recount,'' Purcell said of the survey that was completed in September. ''Flags are a subjective thing. People in the rest of the country may not appreciate our unique flag. It's a flag that takes some time to get comfortable with. There are not many flags with a skull on it.'' The skull is accompanied on the Metro seal by a chief, believed to be famous Cherokee Indian chief Oconostota, who holds a skull. There's also an eagle, a shield and a tobacco plant in the city seal. Purcell said he researched the seal when he first took office and realized the history of its composition is a mystery that dates back more than a half century. ''Once I got to the end of that inquiry, I decided I needed to move on to other things,'' Purcell said, adding that he has no plans to push for any kind of change in the flag. Based on a very unscientific survey of Nashvillians conducted on the sidewalk last week, there appears to be no political downside for the mayor in this stance. Many citizens didn't even know Metro had a flag and didn't really care one way or another. When shown its image, others thought the flag was fine. ''Overall it's an attractive flag,'' said Gary Giles, a downtown resident who echoed several others interviewed. Kaye doesn't necessarily agree. His group will have its annual meeting in Nashville next October, and he said its members would be happy to help Metro if it wishes to explore updating the flag. A few cities have already responded to the survey and are exploring a change, Kaye said. In recent years, some members of the group, primarily a scholarly organization, have offered advice to the world about flag principles. That push is a response by flag experts, who believe the design and taste for a good flag has suffered from what it was in centuries past. The flag association's Website at www.nava.org quotes what Kaye said is one of the most eloquent statements of the elements that make a good flag: the 1861 national flag committee of the Confederate States of America: ''A flag should be simple, readily made and capable of being made up in bunting, it should be different from the flag of any other country, place or people, it should be significant, it should be readily distinguishable at a distance, the colors should be well contrasted and durable, and lastly, and not the least important point, it should be effective and handsome.'' The flag group thinks more highly of Tennessee's flag, with its three simple stars for the state's three regional Grand Divisions. Tennessee's flag ranked 9th out of 50 states in a similar survey three years ago.


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