When he first moved to Maryland, graphic designer and activist Benjamin Jancewicz was amazed by the ubiquity of the state flag. Marylanders showed their love for their home state with black, gold, red and white koozies, clothes and even tattoos.
"I know a lot of people with Maryland flag tattoos," he said.
Jancewicz, 34, became interested in learning more about the origins of the distinctive emblem.
He soon discovered through some research that the flag is, in his words, "half confederate."
"I was completely surprised," he said. "I think if people really really knew the ties to the Confederacy, I don't think it would be as popular."
Jancewicz shared his findings to Twitter on Sunday as part of the #NoConfederate campaign to protest HBO's upcoming series "Confederate." The protest was started by #OscarsSoWhite creator April Reign.
So, here's the history: During Colonial rule, the black and gold pattern of the Calvert family coat of arms was an unofficial state symbol for Maryland. It came back in the second half of the 19th century.
Following Abraham Lincoln's election in 1861, pro-Confederacy Marylanders adopted the red and white Crossland arms — taken from the maternal side of the Calvert family — as a symbol of resistance to the Union. According to the website of the Maryland Secretary of State, "red and white 'secession colors' appeared on everything from yarn stockings and cravats to children's clothing."
The wearing of red and white clothing was so closely associated with Confederate sympathies that it was actually banned in Baltimore during the war, said Francis O'Neill, reference librarian at the Maryland Historical Society.
"That combination of colors was enough to get you locked up," he said.
Despite the Confederacy's ultimate defeat in the war, the Confederate Crossland arms found its way onto the state flag after the war's end.
However, the Maryland Historical Society states that the design combining the Calvert and Crossland families actually predates the Civil War by two centuries.
"Whether or not the Confederacy adopted the symbol for their cause has nothing to do with the design's original intent," Maryland Historical Society's President and CEO Mark Letzer wrote in a statement.
According to O'Neill, the effort to adopt the flag was probably led by Confederate veterans in Maryland, who were much more active than Union veterans in Maryland since they lacked funding and official representation. (Incidentally, Confederate lobbying also led to the establishment of jousting as the state sport.)
"It is true that the guys who are the most enthusiastic about 'let's adopt a state flag' tend to be the Confederate ones," he said.
The flag was formally adopted by the General Assembly in 1904. The Baltimore Sun, in an editorial endorsing the decision, noted its history:
"It was carried in the Confederate ranks of Maryland troops from the first battle of Manassas, July 21, 1861, to the surrender at Appomattox, April 9, 1865."
Thus, two flags were combined into the distinctive pattern that dominates tattoos, swim trunks and state houses today.
Since posting the Twitter thread, Jancewicz says he's heard from many people who were as shocked as he was.
"Nobody knew, nobody had any idea," he said.
He's gotten some hate mail, too. "A lot of Confederate apologists have come out of the woodwork," he said, and he's gotten threats. It's scary, Jancewicz said. But it doesn't mean he's going to stop.
"Saying that racism is bad is still an inflammatory thing in this country — which is wild to me," he said. "But that doesn't mean that I'm gonna stop doing it."
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