Committee Works to Standardize the Iconic South Carolina State Flag

Oct 10, 2019

The South Carolina flag is considered to be one of the most beautiful of the 50 flags representing the country's states.  But if one observes closely, he can sometimes detect differences between flags at various state offices and locations.  That's because the state does not have a standard for the production of its flags.  

The situation is finally being remedied, however, by the formation of a committee which will make recommendations to the legislature for official standards for the flag. 

"There was an official state flag in 1861...so the 1861 flag was really the official state flag until 1910," said Eric Emerson, executive director of the S.C. Department of Archives and History, who serves on the flag standards committee.   "And there was an official flag from 1910 until 1940.  Since that time there has been no standardized state flag."

That's because until 1940, Clemson College was required to manufacture official flags for the state's use.  When it sought to get out of the flag-making business (the state dictated that the school's textile department make the flags at cost, so there was no incentive to continue), the mandating legislation was dissolved, and with it went any standards of size, color or looks, which had been established in 1910 by A.S. Salley of the S.C. Historical Commission.

"From that point on, you see a great deal of variance in the flag," said Emerson.  "Some people are using...what we call the Salley crescent, kind of a fat, small crescent that he jammed up into the corner.  But the thing that's really varying the most is the palmetto tree."

That's what a Newberry resident noticed, the fact that periodically the palmetto trees on state flags would be different at various state offices, and even on the ones flying over the State House.  According to Emerson, "he did some research and found out there's no standardized state flag. "  The man contacted his state senator and representative and asked them to introduce legislation forming a committee to set standards for the flag, which it did. 

Historian Walter Edgar serves on the committee with Emerson and explained that in addition to standardizing the look of the crescent and palmetto and the flag's color, "it has to be done to the proper scale...how large the crescent is going to be, how far away is it gonna be from the palmetto...because the state uses a fair number of flags.  County courthouses use them, what have you."  Emerson said the official standards will pertain only to companies that wish to produce flags for the state.  "Outside of government, people are still free to produce whatever version of the palmetto tree or crescent they want to produce."

The committee is working with Clemson, which is researching historical designs for the palmetto tree.  It has established already the shade of blue as the historical indigo, which once was a valuable cash crop in South Carolina.   The final recommendations will be sent to the legislature for approval.  Edgar, for one, said he's looking forward to getting a new official flag when it's produced: "I've got a South Carolina flag on my front gate right now, and it's one of the designs that's been used for the last 20 or 30 years.  But whatever the new one is, I'm gonna go out and buy it."