Some Illinois lawmakers want more people flying the state flag. A new bill considers whether that means getting a new flag altogether.
This week, Senate Bill 1818 — its number corresponding with the year that Illinois became a state — made its way out of a Senate committee, bringing it a step closer to being passed. If the bill makes it through both chambers of the General Assembly and is signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a commission would be created to investigate whether the flag should be redesigned.
State Sen. Doris Turner, a Springfield Democrat who’s sponsoring the bill, thinks the move could create some excitement and get more residents involved in their state.
“People are not as engaged in state government as they used to be,” Turner said. “So this is another opportunity to engage people throughout the state.”
The Illinois flag is simply the state seal — a bald eagle with the state motto in its mouth standing on a rock bearing the seal’s creation year and the state’s birth year — on a white background. It often finds itself in a forgettable place among rankings of the nation’s 50 state flags by flag enthusiasts and listicle sites.
“That eagle looks distressed and confused; it’s like Illinois and Iowa are committed to killing our country’s most famed bird,” Ryan Hatch wrote for Yahoo! Travel, ranking it 17th among state flags while lumping it with the Iowa state flag, which also incorporates an eagle.
In recent years, the discussion of state flag alterations often has taken place in Southern states whose banners employed symbols from the Confederacy. Mississippi, for example, got rid of a flag that included the Confederate stars and bars in 2021 in favor of one that features a magnolia blossom.
But Utah recently decided to replace its flag for reasons similar to those given in Illinois: not enough people fly it. On March 9 of next year, Utah will lower its current flag, which shows the state seal on a blue background, and raise a simpler design that pays homage to its nickname, the Beehive State.
“When Utah did this exercise, they received about 7,000 designs and over 44,000 public comments,” Turner said. “I am hopeful that Illinois will see that same type of interest.”
Illinois is home to one of the most iconic city flags in the nation. The city of Chicago flag is recognized for its color scheme, simple star patterns and extensive hidden symbolism. The three white sections represent the city’s North, West and South sides while the baby blue bars signify the lake and the river.
The stars in the center recall important historical events in the city such as the Great Chicago Fire and the 1933 World’s Fair. The popularity of the city flag is apparent as the emblem is plastered on everything from tourists’ tchotchkes to people’s skin in the form of tattoos. In the 2018-19 NBA season, it was incorporated into the Chicago Bulls City Edition uniform, which the Tribune reported featured “a sharp homage to Chicago’s iconic flag.”
In contrast, the Illinois state flag breaks about every rule of good flag design as laid out by the North American Vexillological Association — vexillology being the study of flags — in the book “‘Good’ Flag, ‘Bad’ Flag.”
“The flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory,” according to the book, compiled by Ted Kaye, which also says flags should stick to “two or three basic colors” and avoid “lettering or seals.”
Illinois didn’t even have an official state flag for the first 97 years of its existence. In 1915, a flag with only the state seal on a white background was officially adopted. But 54 years later, Navy Chief Petty Officer Bruce McDaniel of downstate Waverly realized while serving in the Vietnam War that no one could identify his state’s flag. He wrote to his state representative, suggesting a remedy.
The present-day flag, with the addition of the state’s name on it, was first flown in 1970, clearing up any confusion over which emblem represented the Land of Lincoln.
“(McDaniel) was concerned that there was nothing in the Illinois flag that distinctly demarcated or represented the state of Illinois,” the 99th Illinois General Assembly wrote in 2015 in a bill honoring the centennial of the original flag.
Over half of the state flags in the nation incorporate their state’s seal. Former Republican state Rep. Tim Butler of Springfield is a fan of Illinois’ seal.
“I really think our state seal is kind of a cool thing,” Butler said in an interview. “It has got some really cool elements to it. It’s got a unique story behind it as well.”
Yet even he is excited to see what might be next for the state.
“I think using state seals for your state flag does not create something that people recognize readily, nor do they fly it,” Butler said. “It’s a point of pride to have a flag that you want to put up and Illinois needs a lot of pride right now.”
The possibility of a new flag is still a long way away from being a reality. The commission to study the issue, whose members would include, among others, the secretary of state and members chosen by the governor and both legislative chambers, wouldn’t file its report until December 2024.
Along with a recommendation over whether the flag ought to be changed, the bill says that the commission would also suggest “no more than 10″ potential new designs.
Not everyone is on board with the plan. In addition to the history of the present flag, some aren’t in favor of expending time and resources on a redesign. And perhaps predictably, it’s another issue that seems to divide legislators along party lines.
Republican state Rep. Terri Bryant, who represents a district that includes the southern Illinois communities of Murphysboro and Mount Vernon, said she sees “no reason for us to change anything about our state flag at this time.”
GOP state Sen. Andrew Chesney of Freeport said he thinks changing this important symbol of Illinois statehood would be a mistake.
“The State of Illinois flag is one of the most important elements of our state’s history,” Chesney said in a statement. “While the Majority Party has taken steps to remove or change some symbols of our state history, I believe our state flag should not be altered or changed in any way.”
Turner said there is bipartisan support for the bill — noting the backing from one former colleague, Butler.
“You know this is a good idea when Tim Butler and I are on the same page on this,” Turner joked.
Cook County changed its flag last year after a design competition among high school students. Turner said if her bill is passed, the new commission would similarly listen to the public’s ideas through an online suggestion box and a voting system before their recommendation.
“I’m really interested to see what comes forward from individuals throughout the state,” she said.
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March 10, 2023 at 05:41AM