By ANN TOPLOVICHSpecial to The Wilson Post
The Tennessee State Flag with its three stars is one of the most recognized symbols of the State of Tennessee. April 17 is State Flag Day, marking the date that the Tennessee General Assembly adopted the flag in 1905.
Capt. LeRoy Reeves of Johnson City designed the Tennessee flag. As he explained his design, “The three stars are of pure white, representing the three grand divisions of the state. They are bound together by the endless circle of the blue field, the symbol being three bound together in one -- an indissoluble trinity.” Reeves rotated the stars so that no Grand Division – East, Middle, or West – would ever dominate over another.
State law dictates that “Inside the circular blue field shall be three five-pointed stars of white distributed at equal intervals around a point, the center of the blue field and of such size and arrangement that one point of each star shall approach as closely as practicable without actually touching one point of each of the other two around the center point of the field; and the two outer points of each star shall approach as nearly as practicable without actually touching the periphery of the blue field. The arrangement of the three stars shall be such that the centers of no two stars shall be in a line parallel to either the side or end of the flag, but intermediate between same; and the highest star shall be the one nearest the upper confined corner of the flag.”
Since the adoption of the state flag, a frequent problem is “which way is up” when displaying the flag. Even the U.S. Post Office placed the flag upside down on its 1976 stamp of the Tennessee flag, and continued to print it that way even though state officials protested. Later, a state law was passed requiring flag manufacturers to imprint on the flag a legend or other marks that indicate which way to fly or display the flag. Most commonly, the word “Top” can be found at the top of the flag’s hoist, the edge nearest the flagpole.
On State Flag Day, fly your Tennessee flag proudly, and right side up. The Tennessee National Guard provides an illustration that depicts the correct dimensions and display of the official Tennessee State Flag.
Modern state flags date from the 1890s when states wanted to have distinctive symbols at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Most state flags were designed and adopted between 1893 and World War I. The North American Vexillological Association ranks Tennessee’s flag as the 14th best of the 72 American and Canadian state and provincial flags.
Editor’s Note: Ann Toplovich, a former Lebanon resident and graduate of Lebanon High School, is executive director of the Tennessee Historical Society.