Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The History & Meaning Of The African American Red, Black, And Green Flag

Edited by Azizi Powell

Title revised: June 18, 2022

This pancocojams post provides information about the history and cultural significance for African Americans of the red, black, and green flag and of that color combination in decorations, greeting cards, and other usages.

As a means of presenting examples of the use of the colors red, black, and green in African American culture, this post includes a sound file of "The Kwanzaa Song" by Teddy Pendergrass is included in this post. For historical purposes, this post also includes a sound file of and lyrics to the 1900 song "Every Race Has A Flag But The Coon".

Click for the related post on the history and significance of the Pan African colors of red, gold, and green. These colors are sometimes accompanied by the color black.

The content of this post is provided for historical, cultural, and educational purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks to those who published the YouTube videos that are included in this post.

From [updated quote retrieved January 3, 2020]
"The Pan-African flag—also known as the UNIA flag, Afro-American flag, Black Liberation flag, and various other names—is a tri-color flag consisting of three equal horizontal bands of (from top down) red, black and green. 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.[1][2] Variations of the flag can and have been used in various countries and territories in the Americas to represent Garveyist ideologies.


The flag was created in 1920 by members of UNIA in response to the enormously popular 1900 coon song "Every Race Has a Flag but the Coon".[3] which 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:[4]

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.

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.[7]

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."...
Click for information about the UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association). Here's an excerpt from that article:
"On July 20, 1914, Marcus Garvey, at the age of twenty-eight, founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association. His co-founder was Amy Ashwood, who would later become his first wife. The U.N.I.A. was originally conceived as a benevolent or fraternal reform association dedicated to racial uplift and the establishment of educational and industrial opportunities for blacks, taking Booker T. Washington's Tuskegee Institute as a model. The U.N.I.A. floundered in Jamaica. But shortly after Garvey's relocation to Harlem in 1916, New York became the headquarters of the movement. The Harlem branch started with 17 members meeting in a dingy basement. But by the spring of 1918, Garvey's strong advocacy of black economic and political independence had taken hold, and U.N.I.A. branches and divisions were springing up in cities and towns across the country, and then in different parts of the world. By 1920 Garvey claimed nearly a thousand local divisions in the United States, the Caribbean, Central America, Canada and Africa. "...

Update: Section added on February 25, 2017: "The African American Experience in Vietnam: Brothers in Arms" by James E. Westheider
[Google books]
page 76
...African Americans who remained in the armed services often reacted to racism by seeking comfort and safety in racial solidarity and by establishing their own sub-culture within the military. They called each other “brother”, “soul brother”, or “bloods”, and they were proud of being black. Two popular methods of greeting fellow black soldiers and demonstrating racial solidarity were the black power salute, a clenched fist in the air, and the “dab”, which developed in Vietnam, probably among inmates of the notorious Long Binh stockade. Dap is a corruption of the word “dep” Vietnamese slang for something beautiful. The dap, also known as “checking in”, was an intricate ritualized handshake, involving numerous gestures and movements. There was no standard dap, but there were many common gestures. There were countless variations of dap, and some of the more common greetings could go on for five or more minutes. Each move had a specific meaning: Pounding on the heart with a clenched fist, for example, symbolized brotherly love and solidarity; clenching fingers together and then touching the backside of the hand meant “My brother, I’m with you”. Most of the gestures signified solidarity, respect, and pride, but a few had darker meanings. A slicing movement across the throat symbolized cutting the throats of white MPs, never a favorite group among black recruits.

Many of the men also started carrying visible symbols of black power and racial pride, such as black power canes, made of ebony, an African wood. Others wore “slave bracelets”, woven from extremely long army bootlaces, and in off-duty hours they wore dashikis. Black power flags, displaying the colors black, green, and red, often flew over all-black barracks, or “hootches” in the field. Marcus Garvey inspired the design, but black marines stationed at Danang modified the flag into a meaningful symbol for black warriors. It was red to symbolize the blood shed by African Americans in the war, with a black foreground representing black culture. In the middle of the flag were two crossed spears superimposed on a shield, surrounded by a wreath, signifying “violence when necessary”, but “peace, if possible”. Many of the flags carried slogans in Swahili such as “I will stand by you, my brother, if you want my help” or a warning to one’s enemies “My fear is for you”. The black power flag spread from Vietnam throughout the American military establishment, and variations of it flew at military installations from West Germany to South Korea.”...
*Italics added to highlight that portion of that excerpt.
Click the "black handshakes" tab below for pancocojams posts about this subject.


African Liberation Day in Pittsburgh [Pennsylvania] 2013. On May 25th, 201 Part 2

T.U.T AMENDMEDIA Published on May 30, 2013

National Black United Front (NBUF) will host an African Liberation Day (ALD) Parade and Celebration Saturday, May 25th, 2013. The parade will begin at 11 am at Crescent Elementary School, 8080 Bennett St. and end at the intersection of Frankston Ave and N. Homewood. Kofi Taharka, NBUF National Chairperson, will be one of the key speakers during the celebration. An integral part of the day's activities will be the NBUF Feed the Hood Project. The Feed the Hood Project assists members of the Homewood Community who are striving to meet their basic needs for food, personal hygiene products, medical supplies and clothing. Throughout the day there will be live performances and cultural presentations. NBUF is inviting all community organizations and committed individuals to stand together in solidarity towards building a better Pittsburgh.

Red, black, and green are the colors of Kwanzaa, the African American created holiday that a small number of African Americans celebrate annually from December 26th-January 1st. Here's a video of a song about Kwanzaa:

Happy Kwanzaa - Teddy Pendergrass

rapidvibrationz, Uploaded on Nov 25, 2010

RIP Teddy Pendergrass & much thanks for creating this beautiful song. Much thanks for Dr. Maulana Karenga for organizing this tradition for the people. Happy Kwanzaa to all and have a bless and prosperous New Year. Peace
Click for the lyrics to this song.
Some African Americans who celebrate both Christmas and Kwanza blend ornaments for both of those holidays, since red & green are also the colors most associated with Christmas. In addition, red, black, and/or green colored ornaments and other decorations in one of those colors can also be combined with Kente cloth designed ornaments and decorations, since red, green, gold, and orange are the colors that are most commonly found in Ghanaian Kente cloth designs in the United States.

Click for information about the meaning of certain Kente cloth colors and designs.

Here's an example of the use of the colors red, black, and green to honor an African American:
The Empire State building was lit with the colors red, black, and green in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day January 20, 2014.


"Every Race Has A Flag But The Coon" (Popular Song From 1900)

Tim Roseborough Uploaded on Jan 31, 2012
" "Every Race Has a Flag but the Coon" was a song written by Will A. Heelan, and J. Fred Helf that was popular in the United States and Britain"...

(William A. Heelan and J. Fred Helf, 1900)

The leader of the Blackville Club arose last Labor night
And said, “When we were on parade today
I really felt so much ashamed, I wished I could turn white
‘Cause all the white folks march’d with banners gay

Just at de stand de German band
They waved their flag and played ‘De Wacht am Rhine’
The Scotch Brigade each man arrayed
In new plaid dresses marched to ‘Auld Lang Syne’
Even Spaniards and Sweeds, folks of all kinds and creeds
Had their banner except de coon alone
Ev’ry nation can brag ‘bout some kind of a flag
Why can’t we get an emblem of our own?”

For Ireland has her Harp and Shamrock
England floats her Lion bold
Even China waves a Dragon
Germany an Eagle gold
Bonny Scotland loves a Thistle
Turkey has her Crescent Moon
And what won’t Yankees do for their Red, White and Blue
Every race has a flag but the coon

He says, “Now I’ll suggest a flag that ought to win a prize
Just take a flannel shirt and paint it red
They draw a chicken on it with two poker dice for eyes
An’ have it wavin’ razors ‘round its head

To make it quaint, you’ve got to paint
A possum with a pork chop in his teeth
To give it tone, a big hambone
You sketch upon a banjo underneath
And be sure not to skip just a policy slip*
Have it marked four eleven forty four
Then them Irish and Dutch, they can’t guy us so much
We should have had this emblem long before.


This page also includes lyrics to the song “All Coons Look Alike to Me”
Ernest Hogan, 1896. That once popular song was composed by a Black American

*Policy slip is a reference to the illegal but once very widely practiced custom [among African Americans and other Americans of “playing the numbers” [betting on numbers]

Note that when that coon song was composed there actually were at least three flags that could have been used to represent Black Americans: the Caribbean nation of Haiti's blue and red flag which was adopted in 1806, the West African nation of Liberia's red & white strip flag which was adopted in 1847, and the East African nation of Ethiopia, whose red, green and yellow colored flag was adopted in 1897.

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  1. this is real, thank u brothers and sisters of our black nations past, present and future. "BLACK POWER"

  2. Replies
    1. Alafia, Babatunde Olabode.

      You're welcome. I appreciate your comment.

  3. Take pride brothers and sisters of our past and most of all our future.Don't let them take our freedom. We owe this to our next generations. Voting is a honor many have lost their lives for. Protest peacefully and "BLACK POWER"

    1. Thank you, Anonymous.

      I totally agree with what your wrote.


  4. Very enlightening. Thank you. Have you written a book yet? If not, I think you really should. And have you spoken at any universities or colleges? You have a lot of knowledge that should be shared with all people. But especially with the black community.

  5. Thanks for your comment, Gregory Thomas.

    I appreciate them. I haven't written any books or done any public speaking on this subject.

    I believe that I'm reaching more people via this internet blog than I would reach by self-publishing any books.

    Besides, I like the fact that blog posts can include videos and sound files along with text and trying to get permission to quote sources for book publication seems too difficult for me.

    Thanks again.

    One love!

  6. When using the colors red, black and green do the colors go in any specific order, and if so, what is the significance of the order they belong?

    1. Anonymous, thanks for your question.

      Yes the colors go in a specific order, but beyond this being the order that Marcus Garvey used, I don't know if the order has any other significance.
      "The Pan-African flag—also known as the UNIA flag, Afro-American flag, Black Liberation flag, and various other names—is a tri-color flag consisting of three equal horizontal bands of (from top down) red, black and green. 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.[1][2]"...
      That Wikipedia article also provides information about the meanings of the colors red, black, and green and how it changed over time.