Pan-African flag

The Pan-African flag—also known as the Afro-American flag, Black Liberation flag, UNIA flag and various other names—is a tri-color flag consisting of three equal horizontal bands of (from top down) red, black and green.[1] The Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) formally adopted it on August 13, 1920, in Article 39 of the Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World, during its month-long convention at Madison Square Garden in New York City.[2][3] Variations of the flag can and have been used in various countries and territories in the Americas to represent Garveyist ideologies.

Pan-African Flag
Flag of the UNIA.svg
NamePan-African Flag
Various other names
Adopted13 August 1920
DesignA horizontal triband of red, black, and green.
Designed byMarcus Garvey


The flag was created in 1920 by members of UNIA in response to the "coon song", a late nineteenth century craze for songs that belittle and mock African Americans and imitated of stereotyped AAVE speech, that became a hit around 1900 "Every Race Has a Flag but the Coon".[4][5] This song has been cited as one of the three songs that "firmly established the term coon in the American vocabulary". In a 1927 report of a 1921 speech appearing in the Negro World weekly newspaper, Marcus Garvey was quoted as saying:[6]

Show me the race or the nation without a flag, and I will show you a race of people without any pride. Aye! In song and mimicry they have said, "Every race has a flag but the coon." How true! Aye! But that was said of us four years ago. They can't say it now. ...

The Universal Negro Catechism, published by the UNIA in 1921, refers to the colors of the flag meaning:[7]

Red is the color of the blood which men must shed for their redemption and liberty; black is the color of the noble and distinguished race to which we belong; green is the color of the luxuriant vegetation of our Motherland.

Journalist Charles Mowbray White has asserted that Garvey proposed the colors red, black and green for the following reasons: "Garvey said red because of sympathy for the 'Reds of the world', and the Green their sympathy for the Irish in their fight for freedom, and the Black [for] the Negro."[8]

According to the UNIA more recently, the three colors on the Black Nationalist flag represent:

  • red: the blood that unites all people of Black African ancestry, and shed for liberation;
  • black: black people whose existence as a nation, though not a nation-state, is affirmed by the existence of the flag; and
  • green: the abundant natural wealth of Africa.[9]

The flag later became a Black Nationalist symbol for the worldwide liberation of Black people. As an emblem of Black pride, the flag became popular during the Black Liberation movement of the 1960s. In 1971, the school board of Newark, New Jersey, passed a resolution permitting the flag to be raised in public school classrooms. Four of the board's nine members were not present at the time, and the resolution was introduced by the board's teen member, a mayoral appointee. Fierce controversy ensued, including a court order that the board show cause why they should not be forced to rescind the resolution, and at least two state legislative proposals to ban ethnic flags and national flags (other than the U.S. flag) in public classrooms.

In the United States, the flag is currently widely available through flag shops or ethnic specialty stores. It is commonly seen at parades commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, civil rights rallies, and other special events.

2010s usageEdit

In the United States, following the refusal of a grand jury to indict a police officer in the August 9, 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, a Howard University student replaced the U.S. flag on that school's Washington, D.C. campus flagpole with a "black solidarity" flag (this tricolor) flying at half-mast.[10][11][12]

Derivative flagsEdit

Flag of Kenya
Flag of South Sudan
Flag of Malawi
Flag of Malawi (2010-2012)
Flag of Biafra (1967-1970)
Proposed flag for Angola (1996)

The Biafran flag is another variant of this one, with a sunburst in the center. The colors are directly based on Garvey's design. The flag of Malawi issued in 1964 is very similar, reflects the Black Nationalist flag's order of stripes. It is not directly based on Garvey's flag, although the colors have the same symbolism: Red for blood symbolizing the struggle of the people, green for vegetation, and black for the race of the people.[citation needed]

The Kenyan flag (Swahili: Bendera ya Kenya) is a tricolor of black, red, and green with two white fimbriations imposed, with a Masai shield and two crossed spears. It was officially adopted on 12 December 1963 after Kenya's independence, inspired by the pan-African tricolour.[13]

The United States Postal Service issued a stamp in 1997 to commemorate Kwanzaa with a painting by fine artist Synthia Saint James of a dark-skinned family wearing garments traditional in parts of Africa and fashionable for special occasions among African-Americans. The family members are holding food, gifts, and a flag. The flag in the stamp may have been meant to represent the Pan-African flag, however, instead of the stripes descending red, black, and green, the stamp's flag transposes the top two bands and descends black, red, and green.

In 1990, artist David Hammons created a work called African-American Flag, which is held by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Based on the standard U.S. flag, its stripes are black and red, the canton field is green, and the stars on the canton field are black.[14]

In response to the controversy over the flying of the Confederate flag, an African American-run company called NuSouth[15] created a flag based on the Confederate naval jack, with the white stars and saltire outline replaced by green and the blue saltire made black.[16]

The flag of Saint Kitts and Nevis has similar colors, arranged diagonally and separated by yellow lines. It similar to the Malawian flag in that the colors are not directly taken from the Pan-African flag but the symbolism is the same.[citation needed]

Alternative namesEdit

The African American Flag in New York city

The flag goes by several other names with varying degrees of popularity:

  • the Afro-American flag
  • the Bendera Ya Taifa (Kiswahili for "flag of the Nation"), in reference to its usage during Kwanzaa
  • the Black Liberation flag
  • the International African flag
  • the Marcus Garvey flag
  • the UNIA flag, after its originators
  • the Universal African flag
  • the Red Black Green (RBG) flag

Proposed holidayEdit

In 1999, an article appeared in the July 25 edition of The Black World Today suggesting that, as an act of global solidarity, every August 17 should be celebrated worldwide as Universal African Flag Day by flying the red, black, and green banner. August 17 is the birthday of Marcus Garvey.[citation needed]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Donnella, Leah (June 14, 2017). "On Flag Day, Remembering The Red, Black And Green". NPR. Retrieved June 17, 2021.
  2. ^ "25,000 NEGROES CONVENE :International Gathering Will Prepare Own Bill of Rights". New York Times. August 2, 1920. Retrieved October 5, 2007 – via ProQuest.
  3. ^ "NEGROES ADOPT BILL OF RIGHTS: Convention Approves Plan for African Republic and Sets to Work on Preparation of Constitution of the Colored Race Negro Complaints Aggression Condemned Recognition Demanded". Christian Science Monitor. August 17, 1920. Retrieved October 5, 2007 – via ProQuest..
  4. ^ "New Flag for Afro-Americans". African Times and Orient Review. No. 1. October 1912. p. 134.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. ^ RACE FIRST: The Ideological and Organizational Struggles of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press. 1987. p. 43.
  6. ^ Garvey, Marcus (March 19, 1927). "Honorable Marcus Garvey, Gifted Man of Vision, Sets Out In Unanswerable Terms the Reasons Why Negroes Must Build in Africa". Negro World. Vol. XXII, no. 6. Universal Negro Improvement Association.
  7. ^ Mcguire, George (1921). Universal Negro catechism: a course of instruction in religious and historical knowledge pertaining to the race. New York: Universal Negro Improvement Association. p. 34. hdl:2027/emu.010000685445.
  8. ^ Garvey Papers Vol. 2, p. 603.
  9. ^ "History – Red – Black – Green". The Official Website of the United Negro Improvement Association and the African Communities League. Archived from the original on 27 August 2018. Retrieved 13 November 2019.
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-03-13. Retrieved 2015-08-18.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ Jaschik, Scott (2014-12-01). "Howard U. President Issues Statement on Flag Protest". Retrieved 2017-04-06.
  12. ^ "Statement by President Frederick Concerning the University Flagpole". Howard University. Archived from the original on 2015-08-08. Retrieved 13 November 2019.
  13. ^ Gathara, Patrick (2018-08-02). "GATHARA - BLACK, RED AND GREEN: The story behind the Kenyan flag | The Elephant". Retrieved 2020-06-29.
  14. ^ "David Hammons. African American Flag. 1990 | MoMA". The Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved 2019-10-08.
  15. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2018-08-06. Retrieved 2017-04-22.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  16. ^ "NuSouth Apparel Confederate Flag Photo by stagolee7 | Photobucket". Retrieved 2017-04-06.[dead link]


  • "Black Flag", unattributed article in Time magazine, December 13, 1971.

External linksEdit