Historical record thin on specifics regarding Alabama’s flag design

Updated: Jun. 30, 2020 at 6:46 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Mississippi’s governor signed a bill Tuesday to retire the state flag bearing the Confederate battle emblem. Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida created state flags in the late 1890s during the rise of Jim Crow laws in the South. But while Mississippi and Florida both displayed the Confederate symbol on their flags, the intention of Alabama’s design isn’t as direct.

“We don’t have a clear record of why exactly the state legislature decided in 1895 that it was time to create a state flag,” explained Steve Murray, Director of the Alabama Department of History and Archives. “We know that legislation was approved pretty quickly.”

Rep. John Sanford, Jr. sponsored the bill that created Alabama’s state flag. Sanford served in the 60th Alabama Infantry Regiment during the Civil War, and some believe he used that regiment’s battle flag as a pattern to design the state flag, which bears St. Andrew’s Cross in crimson over white.

“It’s one of those situations where the record is thin and there has been suppositions made in subsequent years that the Alabama flag pays homage to the design of the Confederate battle flag in some way,” Murray stated. “But I would conclude that if they were wanting to evoke the Confederate battle flag, they would have been more explicit about doing it either in the design which could have more closely resembled the Confederate flag.”

While there was a great effort to commemorate the Confederacy during the late 1890s, Murray says there’s some speculation that the flag may have been prompted by the Atlanta Exposition, scheduled for later that year.

“Alabama had a prominent presence at the Atlanta Exposition,” he explained. “There is some coverage about the Alabama state flag flying high above the Alabama building there where they had all kinds of agricultural products and industrial products representative from Alabama.”

As for the present function, Murray says flags should represent the people of the state and its values.

“So I can understand why this has been such a pressing issue for our neighbors in Mississippi recently,” he stated. “I think it was certainly a historic decision that took place over the weekend to remove that state flag into a design that better represents their people.”

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