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The North Carolina State Flag

On May 20, 1861, the day that the secession resolution was adopted by the state of North Carolina, an ordinance to adopt a state flag was presented by Colonel John D. Whitford. A committee of seven was formed with Colonel Whitford appointed chairman. The original ordinance stated that "...the flag of this State shall be a blue field with a white V thereon, and a star, encirling which shall be the words, "Sirgit astrum, May 20, 1775."

The design intended by this original description for the flag was never to be. Colonel Whitford and his committee consulted an artist from Raleigh, William Garl Browne, for advice. Mr. Browne prepared a model for a state flag and submitted it to the committee for approval. The "Browne" flag was not at all like that described in the original proposal but was, nevertheless, approved by the North Carolina Convention on June 22, 1861.

North Carolina Secession flag
William Garl Browne "State" flag

The design provided by William Garl Browne and adopted by the Convention was described as having a red field with two bars making up the fly; the top one blue and the bottom bar white. Centered on the red field was a white five pointed star. Above the star, in a semi-circular mold, was the date May 20, 1775 representing the much questioned "Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence." Below the star was the date, May 20, 1861 representing the date of North Carolina's secession from the union.

This flag was carried by the North Carolina Regiments, along with the Confederate colors, throughout the Civil War.

North Carolina state flag

After the war, North Carolina, like other secession states, adopted a revised design for their state flag. In March of 1885, a bill introduced by General Johnstone Jones was passed and the design of the North Carolina State Flag changed for the last time.

The flag's field was changed from red to blue. The top bar of the fly was changed from blue to red. The gilt letters "N" and "C" were placed on either side of the white star and gilt scrolls were added above and below the star. The scroll above still displays the date of the "Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence" but the date displayed in black letters on the lower scroll displays April 12, 1776, the date of the "Halifax Resolves" instead of May 20, 1861, the date of secession.

North Carolina Flag Law

The following information was excerpted from the North Carolina General Statutes, Chapter 144.

Chapter 144

State Flag, Official Governmental Flags, Motto, and Colors.

The flag of North Carolina shall consist of a blue union, containing in the center thereof a white star with the letter "N" in gilt on the left and the letter "C" in gilt on the right of said star, the circle containing the same to be one third the width of said union. The fly of the flag shall consist of two equally proportioned bars, the upper bar to be red, the lower bar to be white; the length of the bars horizontally shall be equal to the perpendicular length of the union, and the total length of the flag shall be one half more than its width. Above the star in the center of the union there shall be a gilt scroll in semicircular form, containing in black letters this inscription: "May 20th 1775" and below the star there shall be a similar scroll containing in black letters the inscription: "April 12th 1776". (1885, c. 291; Rev., s. 5321; C.S., s. 7535; 1991, c. 361, s. 1.)

The words "esse quam videri" are hereby adopted as the motto of this State, and as such shall be engraved on the great seal of North Carolina and likewise at the foot of the coat of arms of the State as a part thereof. On the coat of arms, in addition to the motto, at the bottom, there shall be inscribed at the top the words, "May 20th, 1775." (1893, c. 145; Rev., s. 5320; C.S., s. 7536.)

The board of trustees or managers of the several State institutions and public buildings shall provide a North Carolina flag, of such dimensions and material as they may deem best, and the same shall be displayed from a staff upon the top of each and every such building, at all times except during inclement weather, and upon the death of any State officer or any prominent citizen the flag shall be put at half-mast until the burial of such person has taken place. (1907, c. 838, s. 2; C.S., s. 7537.)

The boards of county commissioners of the several counties in this State shall likewise authorize the procuring of a North Carolina flag, to be displayed either on a staff upon the top or draped behind the judge's stand, in each and every courthouse in the State, and the State flag shall be displayed at each and every term of court held, and on such other public occasions as the commissioners may deem proper. (1907, c. 838, s. 3; C.S., s. 7538.)

No State flag shall be allowed in or over any building here mentioned unless such flag conforms to the description of the State flag contained in this chapter. (1907, c. 838, s. 4; C.S., s. 7539.)

Red and blue, of shades as adopted and appearing in the North Carolina State flag and the American flag, shall be, and hereby are, declared to be the official State colors for the State of North Carolina.

The use of such official State colors on ribbons attached to State documents with the great seal and/or seals of State departments is permissive and discretionary but not directory. (1945, c. 878.)

(a) A county, city, consolidated city-county, or unified government shall not prohibit an official governmental flag from being flown or displayed if the official governmental flag is flown or displayed:

(1) In accordance with the patriotic customs set forth in 4 U.S.C. §§ 5-10, as amended; and

(2) Upon private or public property with the consent of either the owner of the property or of any person having lawful control of the property.

(b) Notwithstanding subsection (a) of this section, for the purpose of protecting the public health, safety, and welfare, reasonable restrictions on flag size, number of flags, location, and height of flagpoles are not prohibited, provided that such restrictions shall not discriminate against any official governmental flag in any manner.

(c) For purposes of this section, an "official governmental flag" shall mean any of the following:

(1) The flag of the United States of America.

(2) The flag of nations recognized by the United States of America.

(3) The flag of the State of North Carolina.

(4) The flag of any state or territory of the United States.

(5) The flag of a political subdivision of any state or territory of the United States. (2005-360, s. 1.)

Source: North Carolina General Assembly:Legislative Library, North Carolina General Statutes, , October 25, 2007.
Source: The State Flag of North Carolina, by W. R. Edmonds, The North Carolina Historical Commisssion, 1911.
Source: Flags of the Fifty States and Their Incredible Histories: The Complete Guide to America's Most Powerful Symbols by Randy Howe. The Lyons Press; First edition edition (November 1, 2002).
Source: State Names, Seals, Flags and Symbols: A Historical Guide Third Edition, Revised and Expanded by Benjamin F. Shearer and Barbara S. Shearer. Greenwood Press; 3 Sub edition (October 30, 2001).
Source: State Names, Flags, Seals, Songs, Birds, Flowers, and Other Symbols by George Earlie Shankle. Reprint Services Corp; Revised edition (June 1971).

Additional Information

The State Flag: Detailed history of the North Carolina State Flag from The State Library of North Carolina.

North Carolina (U.S.): FOTW "Flags of the World" Web Site.

State Flags: Complete list of state flags with links to large pictures and images suitable for coloring.

Flag Terminology: The parts of a flag and terms associated with its design.

Visit Our Flag Shop: Purchase all kinds of flags and banners, lapel pins, 50 state flag sets, decals, patches, college banners at the Flag Shop.

Flags of the Fifty States and their Incredible Histories: A complete guide to America's most powerful symbols by Randy Howe.

How Proudly They Wave: Flags of the Fifty States: This book, by Rita D. Haban, is geared toward younger readers.



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