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Current South Carolina State Flag Will Keep Flying, For Now

This proposal for a standardized South Carolina state flag drew scorn for the palmetto tree design from many online commentators.  The design is a historic one, from a 1910 pencil sketch drawn by Ellen Jervey.
South Carolina Flag Study Committee
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This proposal for a standardized South Carolina state flag drew scorn for the palmetto tree design from many online commentators. The design is a historic one, from a 1910 pencil sketch drawn by Ellen Jervey.

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — There’s a South Carolina state senator who looks at the furor over changing the design of the state flag much in the way he sees his wife.

“A photograph of my wife is always different, but it’s always beautiful,” the adoring lawmaker, state Sen. Brad Hutto, told reporters at the Statehouse a few weeks ago.

“Same thing with the state flag,” the Orangeburg Democrat opined. “You can be anywhere in this country and you see that flag, you know it’s the South Carolina flag.”

And so it will be for at least another year.

The 2021 Statehouse session ended with no new version of the Palmetto tree design being declared as “official” despite attempts by some lawmakers to come up with one.

Hutto’s affection for not touching that most distinctive of images may ensure change never come.

“Anyone who wants to pigeonhole it into one particular design is going to have to fight with me,” he said.

The flag design issue unexpectedly became among the hottest debates of the year after a team of historians in 2020 suggested imagery for what that flag should look like.

That didn’t end well — namely because of how the state’s namesake tree, the scrubby Palmetto, was depicted.

Critics said the version makes the palmetto resemble a toilet brush and fails to capture the true essence of the wild ubiquitous stock.

The outcry was loud enough that experts went back and generated a second option for lawmakers to deliberate. In March, the Senate Family and Veterans’ Services Committee selected a choice that depicts a palmetto tree adopted in 1910 on the second official state flag.

Legislators expected a lively floor debate to follow, but Hutto immediately contested the bill. So there it sat as the session dwindled.

The South Carolina flag is steeped in history and widely considered one of America’s most recognizable. Its indigo color — specifically Pantone 282 C — is approximate to a shade of uniforms worn by Col. William Moultrie’s 2nd South Carolina Regiment in the Revolutionary War.

Indigo dye was also produced from that plant in the Lowcountry during Moultrie’s lifetime, and it became the state color in 2008.

Equally recognizable is the angle and shape of the crescent that looms over the tree. It’s based on a pattern and military symbol that Moultrie’s troops wore on their hats.

Not up for debate in all of this were the modern flag’s color scheme or crescent, but that left the most distinctive of elements at the root of the battle: the beloved palmetto, whose wood was used to build Fort Sullivan in 1776 and absorbed British artillery rounds during its 1780 siege of Charleston.

State Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, chairwoman of the Family and Veterans’ Services Committee, said she’s perplexed at the legislative holdup.

“People have made it such a big issue,” she said. “It’s not that serious an issue. It’s not going to change the world, but it would be nice for it to be standardized.”

Without a uniform design, advocates say production of the flag is open to interpretation, meaning variants of it can appear on bumper stickers, T-shirts, keychains or any other marketing material.

“I think the bill is very benign. And we would like for it to be a little standardized because I’ve seen some that are terrible and some that are really beautiful,” state Sen. Ronnie Cromer, R-Prosperity, said. “But the ones that are too beautiful are so beautiful that they don’t depict the actual history of the flag. We’ve got to land somewhere in between.”

Coming out of a session where signature pieces of legislation such as adoption of a hate crimes bill and police reform failed to gain any traction, Hutto said spending time deliberating the flag’s nuances would have been a waste.

But he isn’t going to allow haters to win the day, he added.

“There are some problems that need to be solved for the people of South Carolina. Telling them the flag is blue with a palmetto tree and crescent moon on it is not one of those problems,” Hutto said.

It’s possible for the topic to come up again next year when the General Assembly reconvenes, but Hutto said he may continue to block debate.

“We don’t need somebody to tell us what it looks like. We all know what it looks like,” he said. “I don’t know if somebody is trying to make money off this or what. It’s not been a problem for hundreds of years.”