West: Flag has upside down troubles

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There seems to be a "problem" with the Tennessee state flag.

And that problem is … people keep flying it upside down.

How the heck do you do that? Well, it is easier than you think.

But first, a few words on LeRoy Reeves, the designer of the state flag.

Reeves came up with the plan in 1905 when he was serving in the Tennessee National Guard. Tennessee's flag before it was "re-invented" by Reeves was a mess but carried the same theme of the Volunteer State being divided into three grand divisions.

Here's how the state officially describes it:

"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. The large field is crimson. The final blue bar relieves the sameness of the crimson field and prevents the flag from showing too much crimson when hanging limp. The white edgings contrast more strongly the other colors."

Sounds impressive, doesn't it. In 2001, a poll of international flag experts voted Tennessee's flag No. 14 out of a list of 72 flags including all the state and provincial flags of the U.S. and Canada.

Other “experts,” including myself, think that Tennessee's flag ranks right up there at the top of the list just below Old Glory, which incidently earned that nickname flying in Nashville. But that doesn't mean much when it comes to flying the flag.

It's the three stars that cause the difficulty.

As the official description goes….
"The arrangement of the three (3) stars shall be such that the centers of no two stars shall be in a line parallel to either the side or the end of the flag, but intermediate between the same; and the highest star shall be the one nearest the upper confined corner of the flag."

Confusing? A little, but when you fly the flag upside down, it tends to make one star dominant over the others instead of the highest star being next to the flag pole.

And believe me, people do tend to fly the Tennessee flag upside down because it makes a traditional triangle that way. Sorta or more or less. Use your imagination.

In fact, it was caught recently flying upside down over the state Capitol in Nashville. And back in 1976, the U.S. Postal Service printed a stamp with the Tennessee flag flying upside down.

So we can all blame it on LeRoy Reeves, the original designer of the state flag. Obviously, he "twisted" the star arrangement so no particular star dominated the flag.

Maybe the arrangement does give a little preference to West Tennessee because that first star is a bit higher than the other two. Of course, there is no stated "star" preference when it comes to Tennessee's flag. Personally, I think they flow from West to East with the "eastern" star being on bottom of the flag.

But I doubt if Reeves had that intention when he created the flag. After all, he was from Johnson City and that's about East Tennessee as you can get.

Probably, he had the order West, Middle and East in mind, which might mean the bottom star stands for Middle Tennessee if you go 1, 2, and 3 from the left. Obviously, we will never know which order he intended back in 1905.
Instead we should, as the Tennessee Blue Book says, consider that the white stars are "being three bound together in one-an indissoluble trinity."

Doesn’t sound much fun to me, but you’ve got to admit that Tennessee is unified when it comes to vying against other states in just about any competition ranging from football to luring new industry to the Volunteer state. Otherwise, it is Middle Tennessee all the way.

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Mike West
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