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Editorial: Take pride in Maryland flag and its symbolism of unity

Could Maryland's popular state flag become the next target of whitewashing symbols of the Confederacy from our country's history? No one has suggested such a change yet, but it came up amid the removal of Robert E. Lee and Justice Roger Taney monuments from Maryland when conservative website Red Maryland posted an article titled "Save Our Flag" that linked to a change.org petition that claimed the flag was under attack.

The petition had been signed by nearly 49,000 people as of Friday evening.

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Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic leaders Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch on Thursday were clear that no such measures to change or remove the Maryland flag are being considered.

Red Maryland's petition claims "radicals are trying to force Maryland to change our flag," linking to a Baltimore Sun article about activist and graphic designer Benjamin Jancewicz's research into the flag's Confederate roots.

The Crossland arms — the red-and-white cross that makes up two of the flag's quadrants — was adopted by pro-Confederacy Marylanders following Abraham Lincoln's election in 1861 as a symbol of resistance to the Union.

But the Crossland arms and the quadrants of the flag go back long before the Civil War. Some 200 years in fact. George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, had adopted a coat of arms that incorporated the alternating quadrants featuring the black-and-yellow colors of his paternal family as well as the red-and-white colors of his maternal family, the Crosslands.

The black-and-yellow Calvert arms, however, was most closely associated with Maryland the colony prior to the revolution. Neither symbol was used immediately following the revolution, but black-and-yellow were reintroduced in 1854 — before the start of the Civil War — because of a law calling for a new great seal based on the Calvert design.

Maryland was obviously a greatly divided state during the Civil War, and while it officially, and perhaps reluctantly, remained part of the Union, Southern sympathizers in Maryland adopted the red-and-white colors and the Crossland imagery as their own.

Following the end of the Civil War, reconciliation was the challenge of the day across the country, particularly in deeply divided Maryland. Though it wouldn't be formally adopted as the state flag until 1904, it was in the 1880s that the flag incorporating the alternating quadrants originally seen in Lord Baltimore's coat of arms began to appear as a symbol of the reunion of all of Maryland's citizens.

Maryland's flag story is unlike that of the banner most commonly associated with the Confederacy. While primarily limited to memorial ceremonies after the Civil War, the Confederate flag took on new associations after World War II as groups such as the Dixiecrats, the Ku Klux Klan and some individuals subverted it as a symbol of opposition to desegregation and the civil rights movement, giving that flag the negative connotations it has today for so many people of color.

Our state flag, fortunately, has never been used for this kind of racial intimidation and, God willing, never will. Marylanders should take great pride in their flag for many reasons, not the least of which is its underlying symbolism of unity after the War Between the States, and continue to rebuke any inclination, however minor, that it be changed or replaced.

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