O Say Can You Feel: Stories Inspired by National Flags, Part II
Hear the true, poignant stories of an African American relation to Thomas Jefferson, a man who was neighbors with the murderers of Emmett Till, and other individuals with fascinating flag memories. Weaving original music, poetry, movement and song throughout, this powerful program of oral histories by the people who lived them, stirs us to reflect on our own relationship to our flag, our country, and to each other. The director is Harriet Lynn of Heritage Theatre Artists’ Consortium. Included with museum admission. This program is in conjunction with the exhibition For Whom It Stands: the Flag and the American People.
Date and Time: Saturday, September 13, 2pm
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Listen to a preview. Jo Ann McKinney recounts her survival of 9/11. Courtesy of WYPR’s The Signal with Aaron Henkin.
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What's your flag story?
Jo Ann McKinney
“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for ‘Richard’ stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for ‘Richard’ stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” That was my interpretation of how the National Anthem went as I recited it with my chest puffed up and as I stood at attention with my hand over my heart.
Me with my copper-toned face framed by three pig tails and a big playful smile had no idea what I was pledging to and what the words meant, but it sounded like something I should be proud to say. I was a kid who just wanted to learn and play at recess. But pledge I did every morning before class began.
As I looked at the huge piece of fabric hanging from a pole in the corner of my classroom every day, I might have given the flag a brief thought from time to time. Sometimes as we sang the National Anthem in our 5th grade sing-song voices, it seemed that the flag partnered with the breeze from an open window and danced.
Often my mind would drift as we sand and the flag would remind me of a red and white sailboat undulating in a deep blue ocean.
My first enlightenment came when I was introduced to social consciousness when I reached high school. I was told by my Afro wearing Brothas and Sistas that it wasn’t hip to be down with the American flag and what it stood for and also the Revolution would not be televised.
The enlightened folk got my attention when they broke down what the United State’s flag “really” meant. I was told that there was symbolism behind the choice of colors in our flag and it translated this way:
• Red—for the blood spilled by millions of enslaved people stolen from Africa at the abuse of Europeans
• White—quite simply for the people who dominate this land
• Blue—for the blue-eyed Europeans whose sole purpose is to oppress others and control whatever they can get their hands on
Naw, you can’t raise your fist in Black Power solidarity and pledge to no United States flag! Sista get with it. You gotta display your black, red and green flag from the Motherland-Africa.
Okay, news flash- the USA’s flag was not an all inclusive cloak that covered and protected its people of every race, creed or color as I had been taught!
And so it went on until the 90’s. I refused to stand up for the National Anthem at sporting other events that required me to do so. I protested at every turn when the moment called for public display of patriotism. My personal boycott of the U.S flag gave me a sense of liberation.
Then—the realization of the fact that I could pledge allegiance to another flag, the fact that I could express my feelings about the U.S flag without persecution, and the very idea that I live in a country, who has had its share of issues, but for the most part embraces citizens with a multitude of ideals and attitudes-are the real liberating factors.
It is not the non-conformity, nor the aligning yourself with whatever symbol you choose that defines whether you are truly a free individual, or not. True freedom is living in a place where you can choose, where you can express and raise your voice about what effects you whether it be negative or positive.
Suffice it to say that I’ve been enlightened many times about this country’s flag. I’m one who’s continuously evolving.
As I reflect on my thoughts and experiences with the American flag over the past 50 plus years, I’ve come up with my own symbolism for its colors.
• Red—for blood that sustains all God’s creatures and is what humankind shares (figuratively and literally!) no matter what we look like outwardly.
• White—symbolizes daytime clouds that are contrast to nighttime stars. Clouds are symbolic of us because no two are the same.
• Blue—symbolizes the beautiful rivers, oceans, lakes and other bodies of water that make up the unique landscape of our nation.
“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
My father, now deceased, was a U.S. Naval veteran having been in the Korean War, and one of my brothers was a U.S. Marine, and fought in the Viet Nam war.
My father, now deceased, was a U.S. Naval veteran having been in the Korean War, and one of my brothers was a U.S. Marine, and fought in the Viet Nam war. While driving on 355 on Memorial Day, I could helpt but spot the American flag, gracefully flying in the wind on the back of a motorcycle. The driver was "faceless," he could have been anyone heralding the American flag through the streets of Maryland, as a reminder of the many men and women and families who have sacrificed family, life, and limbs for our country and the values it holds. It was a reminder of how united we can come together as patriots, as Americans, under one flag, despite our internal differences and diverse perspectives.
Cynthia Farrell Johnson
My flag story is not about the physical flag, but about showing the flag--being there to represent the United States of America in a positive way.
My flag story is not about the physical flag, but about showing the flag--being there to represent the United States of America in a positive way. For 25 years, I served as a U.S. diplomat, focusing on academic, cultural and media activities at embassies in West Africa and Latin America. Showing the flag meant getting out from behind my desk, going out into the communities across my countries of assignment and getting to know the peoples of those nations. My favorite activity was visiting small towns or cities outside of the capital, especially meeting with English teachers and their students, sharing books and pamphlets about the U.S. and often telling them what it was like to grow up in Brooklyn as the child of immigrants. Showing the flag meant speaking to people in their language, so that we could engage in a true cultural exchange. My happiest moments were painting pictures of the things in each country that were unique and exhibiting them in local cultural centers or galleries. The responses were always the same. "Wow--you really got to know our country." That translated into, "This American really cared about us". As a diplomat, one represents a country. But there are many different ways to do that and generate goodwill and mutual understanding. For me, using my art to reach out was my favorite way of showing the flag.