The Red, Black And Green: Celebrating A Flag Created Almost A Century Ago For The Black Race

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Written by Ann Brown

The red. The black. The green. This is the Pan-African flag, also known as the UNIA flag or the Black Liberation flag. Did you know it dates back to 1920, when in August of that year the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) formally adopted it in Article 39 of the Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World. This happened during the UNIA’s month-long convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  And the flag today is still a powerful symbol in the Black community.

The flag “was designed to represent people of the African Diaspora, and, as one scholar put it, to symbolize ‘Black freedom, simple,’” NPR reported.

The flag had long been in the planning.

“For several years leading up to that point, Marcus Garvey, the UNIA’s leader, talked about the need for a black liberation flag. Robert Hill, a historian and Marcus Garvey scholar, says that Garvey thought of a flag as a necessary symbol of political maturity,” NPR reported.

“The fact that the Black race did not have a flag was considered by Garvey, and he said this, it was a mark of the political impotence of the Black race,” Hill explained. “And so acquiring a flag would be proof that the Black race had politically come of age.”

The colors for the flag were selected for a reason. The red stripe stands for blood — the blood shed by Africans who died fighting for freedom, and the shared blood of the African people. The black stripe represents Black people. And the green strip stands for growth and the natural fertility of Africa.

Hill explained: “Everybody immediately seeing that flag would recognize that this is a manifestation of Black aspirations, Black resistance to oppression.”

And according to Michael Hanchard, a professor of Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, flags symbolize the unity of a person.

So for Blacks, he said, the flag means “that they have some way of identifying themselves in the world. And… to also project to those people who are not members of this particular national community that they too belong, that they have membership in a world of communities, a world of nations.”

Even today, Blacks use the flag to demonstrate solidarity, “In 2014, after Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer, protesters wielded the Pan-African flag as they marched through the streets of Ferguson,” NPR reported.