Illinois has the ugliest flag in the union and state Sen. Doris Turner wants to do something about it.
The lawmaker from Springfield has introduced legislation to create a commission to develop new flag designs for the General Assembly to consider by Sept. 1.
“After more than 100 years of the same design, I think it’s time to rework it,” Turner said. “I’d like to see us take a community approach to create a new design for Illinois’ official state flag.”
In 1915, the various Illinois chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution had a contest to design the state flag. The Rockford chapter won with a rather drab imprint of the state seal on a white background.
For their effort, the state awarded the chapter $25.
Illinois paid too much. That streamer is boring. Really boring.
Not only is it a dull design, it’s an origin story that would make anyone yawn.
Just compare it with Alaska’s. In 1927 the Alaska territory did not have a flag and the governor thought creating one would help pave the way for statehood. So, he launched a contest among the state’s schoolchildren.
Benny Benson, a 13-year-old Aleut boy living in an orphanage in Seward, drew a flag that is perhaps the nation’s most beautiful.
The banner’s dark blue color symbolizes the Alaskan sky and the forget-me-not flowers found across its wilderness. The stars emblazoned on this background can be seen in Alaska’s pristine sky. And the North Star is an appropriate symbol for the northernmost part of the U.S.
When Benny won the contest, lawmakers awarded him a watch and a $1,000 scholarship to study diesel mechanics. It’s doubtful any of the ladies who designed Illinois’ emblem ended up crawling under an engine block.
Complaints about the Illinois flag are nothing new. In 1969, Navy Chief Petty Officer Bruce McDaniel of Waverly, then serving in Vietnam, wrote a letter home complaining about the Illinois flag. It was one of many state flags which hung in his mess hall but its identity was always questioned, so McDaniel requested that the flag carry the state’s name.
In response the word “Illinois” was added to an already homely banner. Talk about putting lipstick on a pig.
When I was reporter in Galveston, Texas, I received a phone call from a woman angry about a photo we ran on the front page of the Lone Star flag being raised over the city after a hurricane.
“Do you see what’s wrong with that photo?” she hollered.
“Um, no ma’am.”
“The flag is going up the pole upside down. How could you run such an image?”
“Well, we were just reporting the news, not giving instructions on proper flag display.”
I can’t imagine that visceral reaction from an Illinoisan seeing their state emblem improperly exhibited. (Texas schoolchildren actually pledge allegiance daily to the state flag.)
And Texans are so proud of their flag they fly it solo with no national emblem insight.
In 2021, Utah passed a law similar to what Sen. Turner is proposing. The task force received about 7,000 flag designs and more than 44,000 public comments. Students, educators, families and more were invited to participate in the process of choosing the Utah flag.
Most of Illinois’ symbols (the state tree, the state mineral, the state animal) were determined by a vote of pupils in the state’s schools. Journalists aren’t supposed to disclose how they vote in elections. But I’m not ashamed to say that in first grade I voted for the white oak to be the state tree and in high school I voted for the white tailed deer to be the state animal.
My track record of voting for winners ended there.
After covering Illinois politicians for more than 30 years, I have no faith whatsoever in their collective wisdom.
Just look at this statement from Sen. Turner: “For years, Illinois was seen as fiscally irresponsible. We have turned that around and returned Illinois to the great state it is and our flag should reflect that.”
While I agree the state is doing better financially, after a big tax hike and an infusion of federal dollars, we are a long way from having turned things around. The Land of Lincoln still has the worst credit rating in the nation and by far the most underfunded pension system.
Given this lawmaker track record, let’s take choosing a new state flag out of their hands and let the children decide.
• Scott Reeder, a staff writer for Illinois Times, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.