In front of Eutaw-Marshburn Elementary School, a familiar sight fitfully blows.
It had been several months since the symbol of American freedom waved outside the Baltimore public school building. But thanks to the help of a few Madison-Wilson community members, as of 9 a.m. yesterday, the flag's broad stripes and bright stars were gallantly streaming once again.
"It's a proud moment when you see the flag raised," said Sheila Mitchell, the school's principal. "But what really touched me is that the community took a part in doing this. ... It's good to know people are watching."
For the better part of the school year, a tattered flag hung limply from a pole at the front of the building on Eutaw Place. With no one at the school to raise and lower it each day, wind and weather had reduced the flag to faded threads. Neighbors called the school, complaining until Mitchell had the ruined flag removed.
United States code (Title 4, Chapter 1, Sec. 6) says "the flag should be displayed during school days in or near every schoolhouse." But faced with budget cuts and layoffs in the cash-strapped city school system, Mitchell couldn't make buying a flag a high priority.
So the flagpole stood bare.
Until Bryan Taylor, a free-lance Web designer and neighborhood activist, and other residents noticed. "This flag is a proud symbol of our country and a shameful symbol of the basic lack of decent management on all levels of the Baltimore City schools," Taylor wrote on a Web site he maintains daily, detailing developments in the Madison-Wilson neighborhood.
Taylor called Mitchell, and says now that he had misjudged her. She wasn't mismanaging the school by failing to properly display the flag -- and ignoring U.S. code. Like many city principals, she was just broke.
"I just dismissed [the school] as being abysmally run," Taylor said. "But now, having seen Principal Mitchell's school, having seen what she does with so little, I think I feel differently."
So Taylor and other neighbors, including some who had been involved in having a police substation established a block from the school in 2002, pooled the $50 for a new flag.
Yesterday, under the direction of a multiservice military honor guard, the crisp new flag was raised. On a frigid morning, the national anthem played on a small boom box. Neighbors gathered round the more than 400 Eutaw-Marshburn schoolchildren, and when the flag reached the top, and whipped in the wind, cheers went up, like little bombs bursting in air. "I'm happy that our school has a flag," said fifth-grader Thea Robertson, 10, "because it symbolizes that we care about America."