Our neighbor to the north is getting a new flag. At least that’s what will happen if Nebraska state senator Burke Harr can get momentum behind his flag redesign movement.
It’s hard not to sympathize with Harr, whose cause has garnered national attention. Recently, the state flag in front of the Lincoln capitol flew upside down for 10 days before anyone noticed. For Harr, this flag flub confirmed the judgment of the North American Vexillological Association, an organization devoted to the study of flags: Nebraska’s current standard is one of the worst-designed state flags in the Union — the second worst, going by the Association’s 2001 ranking.
Unfortunately, Kansas doesn’t fare much better. Just two spots behind Nebraska, our state flag comes in at fourth worst, and for much the same reason. It is, more or less, just the state seal slapped onto a blue background.
Kansas’ seal is well-suited to be engraved on public monuments and stamped on official documents. But a flag serves a different purpose than a seal; a flag should be easily recognizable while flittering in the wind.
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As anyone who has seen the 50 state flags flying side by side can attest, Kansas’ is hard to pick out from the crowd. Even with “Kansas” in block letters, our state flag is easy to confuse with Montana’s — or any of the dozen-odd state flags that share the circular seal, blue background design.
The good news is that we Kansans don’t need to devise a novel design if we want a better flag. Although few of us know it, the current flag is not our only state ensign.
In addition to the busy state flag, Kansas law stipulates an official banner, which was adopted two years before the flag. As described by statute, Kansas’ striking banner consists of a blue field with a large “sunflower in the center … its petals of gold.” With this simple design, the banner would be easier to draw, especially for schoolchildren celebrating Kansas Day. And because it prominently features Kansas’ best-known symbol, the sunflower, this design would easily stand out from the other forty-nine state flags.
Only one problem remains. The state banner is 2-by-4 and hangs vertically, whereas other state flags are 3-by-5 and fly horizontally. The solution, however, is straightforward: just adopt a 3-by-5 horizontal version of the banner design – a large golden sunflower on a blue background – as the state flag.
Like Nebraska, then, Kansas should establish a contest for artists to submit new flag designs. But instead of the free-for-all we now see in Nebraska, where everything, including the flag’s color scheme, is up for grabs, the Kansas contest would simply accept fresh versions of the traditional blue-and-gold sunflower banner. (The Kansas Society of Washington, D.C., logo suggests one possible option.)
Growing up in Wichita, I saw how a community benefits from rediscovering a striking symbol. In recent years, Wichitans have begun flying the city flag in front of our homes, wearing it on our lapels, and painting it on our walls. In so doing, we have renewed our civic identity.
Kansas should follow the example of its largest city. A restored sunflower flag would give us a symbol to rally around. With a great flag design, Kansans would gain greater opportunity to display pride in our great state.
Tyler A. Dobbs, a native Kansan, recently completed a master's program in Greek and Latin literature at the University of Oxford in England.