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Memphis, Tennessee (U.S.)

Shelby County

Last modified: 2018-07-27 by rick wyatt
Keywords: memphis | tennessee | shelby county |
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[Flag of Memphis, Tennessee] 3:5 image(s) by permission of David B. Martucci
image(s) from American City Flags, Raven 9-10 (2002-2003), courtesy of the North American Vexillological Association, which retains copyright.



See also:


Current Flag

Text and image(s) from American City Flags, Raven 9-10 (2002-2003), courtesy of the North American Vexillological Association, which retains copyright. Image(s) from American City Flags by permission of David B. Martucci.

Design

The flag of Memphis is divided horizontally into red over blue segments with a vertical white segment in the hoist. The white area is angled: it runs from about one-half of the length of the flag at the top to about one-third of the length at the bottom. Overlaying the intersection of the three segments is a seal in gold with black lettering, lines, and charges, forming a slightly rounded square. The sealís width is one-half of the flagís height. At the center of the seal is a full-length view of a steamboat with a paddlewheel and a very tall smokestack. To the left of the smokestack is an oak leaf. To the right of the smokestack is a cogwheel (above the paddlewheel and of about the same size). Below the paddlewheel is a cotton boll with its stem and two leaves extending to the left. Around the sealís circumference appear MEMPHIS (top), SHELBY (left), COUNTY (right), and TENNESSEE (base), all but the last word top-outward. All of this is enclosed in a final black line parallel to the first. By ordinance the seal is double-faced on the flag so that it reads correctly on both sides.
Richard Monahan, American City Flags, Raven 9-10, 2002-2003

Symbolism

The line dividing the white portion from the red and blue portions runs at an angle that is roughly equal to the angle at which the Mississippi River runs along the boundary between west Tennessee and northern Mississippi on the east, and Arkansas on the west. The colored fields of the flag, therefore, represent the geographic location of Memphis at the juncture of those three states with the red representing Tennessee, the blue Mississippi, and the white Arkansas. (Devereaux Cannon, Flags of Tennessee [Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Co.]: 88-89).

The oak leaf refers to Memphis as the hardwood capital of the world. Industry is portrayed by the cogwheel while the cotton boll reflects the importance of Memphis as a major cotton market. The steamboat represents the Mississippi River and the significant port facilities in Memphis.
Richard Monahan, American City Flags, Raven 9-10, 2002-2003

Selection

Adopted by the city commission. Whether it was part of a contest or simply on the initiative of the designer is not clear.
Flag adopted: July 1963 (official).
Richard Monahan, American City Flags, Raven 9-10, 2002-2003

Designer

Albert Mallory III, then a student at the Memphis Academy of Arts.
Richard Monahan, American City Flags, Raven 9-10, 2002-2003

More about the Flag

The July 1963 ordinance of adoption specifies white lettering and charges on the gold seal, but because these colors contrast poorly, the city commission decided unofficially to use black instead. The ordinance was later codified as Section 1-7 of the City Code of 1967. The seal used on the flag was designed by A. L. Aydelott and adopted 21 November 1962.
Richard Monahan, American City Flags, Raven 9-10, 2002-2003

The flag of Memphis is a good example of the de facto flag not following the de jure description of the flag. The ordinance establishing the flag of Memphis specifies that "the lettering illustrations, and inscription on the gold seal shall be in white". In practice, however, those elements are rendered in black.
Devereaux D. Cannon, 4 March 2001

Flag legislation

Below is Section 1-7 of the Memphis City Code describing the flag.

"Sec. 1-7. City flag or banner.

(a) The municipal flag or banner of the city shall be rectangular in shape. Its length shall be one and two-thirds (1 2/3) times its width. The field or background shall be divided into three (3) parts, the colors being red, white and blue. Upon the conjunction of the lines bounding the three (3) fields shall be centered the official seal of the city, its colors being gold and white.

(b) The white portion of the city flag or banner is more particularly described as follows:

Beginning at a point in the inner edge (secured edge) of such flag or banner, such point being the uppermost corner of said flag; thence along the upper edge a distance of one-half ( 1/2) the length of the entire flag; thence toward the bottom edge of such flag angling toward the secured edge to a point in the bottom edge of such flag or banner, such point being two-thirds ( 2/3) the distance from the free edge of such flag or banner; thence one-third ( 1/3) the length of the flag to a point, such point being the bottom corner of the inner or secured edge of such flag; thence along the secured or inner edge toward the top the entire width of the flag to a point of beginning; such described portion being white in color except for that part being overlaid with the official seal of the city.

(c) The red portion of the city flag or banner is more particularly described as follows:

Beginning in the uppermost corner of the free edge or outer edge; thence along the free or outer edge toward the bottom edge of such flag or banner a distance of one-half ( 1/2) the width of such flag; thence toward the secured edge, parallel to the top and bottom, to a point where such line contacts the white portion of such flag; thence angling toward the free or outer edge to a point in the top of such flag or banner; thence along the top edge of such flag a distance of one-half ( 1/2) its length to a point in the uppermost corner of the free edge, such point being the point of beginning; described portion being red in color except for that part being overlaid by the seal of the city.

(d) The blue portion of the city flag or banner is more particularly described as follows:

Beginning at a point in the free or outer edge of such flag or banner, such point being the bottom corner; thence along the bottom edge of each flag a distance of two-thirds ( 2/3) its length to a point; thence angling toward the free or outer edge to a point, such point being located halfway between the top and bottom edges of such flag, such point also being the point where the City of Memphis seal shall be centered on such flag or banner; thence toward the outer or free edge, parallel to the top and bottom, to a point in the outer or free edge of such flag or banner, such point being centered between the top and bottom edges at the outer or free edge of such flag; thence along the outer or free edge of such flag one-half ( 1/2) the distance of the width to the bottom corner of the free edge, such point being the point of beginning; such described portion being blue in color except that part being overlaid by the seal of the city.

(e) The seal of the city as described in section 1-5 shall be affixed and overlaid on the city flag or banner, its center being located at the conjunction of the three (3) principal colors of the main fields. The diameter of the seal shall be one-half ( 1/2) the width of the flag or banner. The background of the seal shall be gold in color and all lettering, illustrations and inscriptions found on the seal shall be white in color.

(f) The above described backgrounds, colors, proportions and the overlaid city seal shall be on both sides of the material or cloth of the flag or banner."

You will notice that in subsection (e) it states that "The background of the seal shall be gold in color and all lettering, illustrations and inscriptions found on the seal shall be white in color." I have never seen a Memphis City flag using white for the elements of the seal. I do recall that, in 1968 or 1969 when, in preparation the the sesquicentennial observation in 1969, the city retired the old Benin style flags and had new flags made to correspond more correctly to the ordinance, the fact that the ordinance called for white elements on the seal was discussed. The decision was made to disregard that portion of the ordinance, because of the visibility problem caused by overlaying white on gold.
Devereaux Cannon, 21 January 2003


Pre-1969 variant

[Flag of Memphis before 1969, Tennessee] image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 18 January 2003

Prior to 1969 the flag of the City of Memphis had another de facto variance from the ordinance which authorized it. At that time, it was as shown, except that the division between the white hoist, and the red/blue fly, was a perpendicular line (the overall design, other than colors, being like the flag of Benin, with the seal added). As the city was preparing for its Sesquicentennial Celebration, which was held in 1969, someone read the ordinance, and discovered that the division was supposed to be at an angle. Since that time, the flags have been made as shown above.

At the same time it was also noted that the ordinance called for the letters and symbols in the gold seal to be white. It was recognized, however, that white letters on a gold seal would not be very visible (and also violate the rules of heraldry), so the use of black instead of white was continued, although the law was never changed.

The angle follows, roughly, the angle made by the Mississippi River, at the point where it divides Tennessee and Mississippi on the east from Arkansas on the west. The colored areas of the flag are a sort of vexillolographic representation of the point where the three States come together, Memphis being located in the corner of Tennessee at that point of intersection.
Devereaux D. Cannon, 4 March 2001


Former Memphis flag, c.1931-1963

[Flag of Memphis before 1969, Tennessee] image by Rob Raeside, 22 August 2014

From American City Flags:

FORMER FLAG: Memphis had an earlier design, consisting of the earlier seal in gold on royal blue with Memphis, Tennessee also in gold (with gold-colored braid). It dates from sometime between 1931, when the seal on which it was based was adopted, and 1963, when the new flag was adopted. The previous seal is described in its ordinance of adoption: In the center of the design in bold relief shall appear a large cotton bale, upon the face of which shall be set out a modern Mississippi River steamboat, loaded with cotton bales. In the background of such design, at the top, shall be the tops of modern office buildings; on the right-hand side of the cotton bale shall appear a park scene; and at the bottom of the design and at the right-hand side shall appear cars loaded with logs; and at the left-hand side at the bottom shall appear the front of a modern locomotive engine. On either side of such seal, there shall be on the right-hand side a cotton plant, and on the left-hand side a spray of rice.
Richard Monahan, American City Flags, Raven 9-10, 2002-2003
Ben Cahoon, 22 August 2014

A possible rendition of the old Memphis flag, using seal from cremedememph.blogspot.ca/2011/08/memphis-city-seal.html. We are a bit uncertain about the line "with Memphis, Tennessee also in gold (with gold-colored braid)" - not sure if that means it was written outside the seal also.
Rob Raeside, 22 August 2014