Tuebor: Defending our Michigan Flag

The Michigan flag has flown over our Capitol and across our two peninsulas for more than 100 years: through two world wars, the growth of the automobile industry and several economic depressions.

It’s represented Michigan longer than any of us have been alive.

So there should be no surprise that several people, myself included, were offended when Rick DeVos suggested that we change the flag because it is “ugly” and “non useful.”

DeVos wrote:

I’ve complained several times about how ugly and non-useful the current Michigan state flag is. It’s a big missed opportunity. Michigan has amazing design talent, and a state flag is (or at least can be) a powerful community design asset. Think of it as a public park. Unfortunately our current flag doesn’t function as such. For a positive example look at what CA, CO & others are able to do w/ their flags.

He suggests we should design a new flag and offered $500 each for three of the best designs.

Thinking we can just redesign the flag is shortsighted and misses the importance of why we have such symbols.

Our flag is part of the culture and heritage we’ve inherited. It’s more than a “community design asset” — the flag links us with Michiganders before us and will do the same for generations to come.

Yes, the flag has Latin phrases. In the world of studying flags — vexillology — Michigan’s doesn’t rank high. But who cares? Just because it’s not modern enough or artsy enough doesn’t mean it should be changed. What happens in 50 years when new design trends are popular? Should we change it again make a new flag again?

What about the American flag? Designed with red, white and blue and borrowing the Union Jack’s Stars and Stripes, should it be updated to be an American “community park?” I don’t think so. It’s already a mighty natural forest, here when we arrive and waiting for us to fly with pride.

We’ve changed the flag before in Michigan. Our current flag is the third iteration, adopted in 1911. The first had a portrait of our first governor and the second the had the state and country’s cost of arms.

But our current flag speaks so well of our state. The royal blue background represents our Great Lakes. The elk and moose acknowledge the mighty wildlife that roam the land. The shield shows a frontiersman welcoming the rising sun on a peninsula.

And the three Latin phrases:

  • e pluribus unum “from many, one” the U.S. motto, connecting us to our country.
  • tuebor “I shall defend.” The Latin really gives a sense of “I shall defend today and always defend in the future.”
  • quaeris peninsulam amoenam circumspice: “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look around you.” A beautiful piece of poetry unmatched by any other state.

The flag nods to our land, our heritage and, I’d say, inspires us to look to the future. It may even force us to learn a little Latin.

Maybe the flag isn’t everywhere like other states. But we’re not lacking when it comes to defining ourselves through art, music and even advertising — how much more “Michigan” can you get than Pure Michigan or a simple outline of our peninsulas and Great Lakes.

The flag is not supposed to only reflect who we are today; it’s a symbol of both our past and our future.  While redesigning the flag may be a fun graphic design exercise to garner temporary excitement, the notion that we need a new flag is flawed. It’s not a “big missed opportunity,” as DeVos says, it’s part of who we are as Michiganders.

2 thoughts on “Tuebor: Defending our Michigan Flag”

  1. I think you make some good points, however, you are describing the “Great Seal of Michigan”, which is of course full of history and significance. The seal of Michigan would go unchanged, even with a redesign of our state flag, and would still exist in several other places (just like the US seal, and the US flag: different, but both still exist.)

    The fact is, a flag never really was “designed” for our state. The seal was placed on a piece of fabric and flown AS a flag. The seal isn’t even represented WELL in a flag format because the way it is made distorts both the imagery and lettering. In fact, some would argue that Michigan’s flag can’t even really be considered a flag at all.

    I agree with your assessment of our state seal, it is very meaningful, and represents our state well. But not as a flag.

    1. Great response, Mariah, but I’d say, in a lot of ways, the seal has become synonymous with the flag. I think if you showed the seal by itself to Michiganders, the majority would say “that’s the Michigan flag.” I’m curious the history of the design of our state flag. While some people say it isn’t a real flag because it has small details and doesn’t translate well to a postage stamp, I’d reckon the majority of Michiganders would like to keep our flag as it is because of it’s history and meaning. Sometimes I wish I could commission a poll.

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