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GREG HARTON: Arkansas has one too many stars in its flag

by Greg Harton | March 21, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

The Arkansas Legislature is in session, so that means there must be a discussion of the state's official flag and what it means.

State Rep. David Whitaker of Fayetteville has picked up the baton of the change-the-flag cause, introducing a bill to redesign the flag slightly and significantly change some of the flag's symbolism. Other lawmakers have attempted to make changes in the recent past, but their efforts have been rebuffed within the Legislature's committee system.

Whitaker's proposal has been sent to the House Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs.

The fact that Whitaker is a Democrat suggests the future of his bill may face the same reception. The 100-member body is more than three-fourths Republican.

Who knows, though? One of these years, perhaps, a majority of lawmakers might get tired of the Arkansas flag including a star specifically added in 1924 -- 59 years after the end of the Civil War -- to commemorate Arkansas' membership in the Confederacy.

Arkansas' membership in the Southern rebellion continues each and every time the Arkansas Legislature chooses to leave the Confederate symbolism intact on the state's standard. I have no doubt that's OK with many Arkansans.

I love Civil War history because I believe you cannot understand the United States without attempting to grasp not just what happened during the four-year war, but the events, causes and attitudes before and since. Nevertheless, that's history. It's not commemoration. Having a star on Arkansas' flag to represent the Confederate States of America is commemoration, giving a place of honor to the states who championed the continuation of a barbaric system of human bondage.

Three other stars within the field of white in the original 1913 state flag recognized the three nations that have controlled the land that today makes up Arkansas -- France, Spain and the United States.

Whitaker's bill would alter the flag by reducing the number of stars to three, with one star above "Arkansas" and two below. They also are designed to represent that Arkansas was the third state carved out of the Louisiana Purchase. The lower two stars signify that Arkansas and Michigan joined the Union together on June 15, 1836. The 25 stars in the flag's band of blue signify Arkansas was the 25th state admitted to the Union.

It would be nice if no one could ever again point to Arkansas modern flag and charge that the state continues to highlight its membership in the Confederate States of America.

In 2019, the effort to modify the state's flag earned Gov. Asa Hutchinson's support.

"I continue to support this legislation, and I'm certain it will come back up for debate in future legislative sessions," he said after the effort failed. "My hope is that someday we can have a flag with symbolism that unites the whole state."

But what if lawmakers don't want to redesign the flag? What if they want to keep four stars?

Maybe they could muster a vote to designate that star in honor of Johnny Cash or Daisy Bates. Those are the two historical figures who were the Legislature's choice to replace 100-year-old statues now representing the state in the U.S. Capitol.

Or maybe it should represent the Buffalo River, one of the most famous and astoundingly beautiful parts of the Natural State's geography?

Yeah, neither of those are great ideas, but would be better than the Confederacy. Maybe Whitaker has the right idea to just get rid of the star that should have never been added, and that messes up the symmetry of the flag, anyway.

There are a lot of elements to our pride in Arkansas. In 2021, none of that ought to be based on the state's membership in the Confederacy.


Greg Harton is editorial page editor for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Contact him by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @NWAGreg.

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