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History of the Tennessee flag

Most of us probably don’t have our state flags memorized, but it’s worth studying up: Our flag’s design reflects centuries of history.

The Tennessee flag

Adopted in 1905, our flag’s history is much older.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Table of Contents

If a picture’s worth a thousand words, a flag is a whole textbook.

Our state flag is a record of Tennessee history that experts read like a secret code. Every part carries some meaning, from hoist to fly end.

The colors

This one’s easy: our flag shares its colors with the US flag, and their meanings are identical:

  • Red for valor
  • White for purity and innocence
  • Blue for vigilance, perseverance, and justice

One slight difference is that the white band around the tri-star represents “indissoluble unity.”

The tri-star

Colonel Le Roy Reeves proposed the design of the tri-star, with each star representing a Grand Division of Tennessee: East, Middle, and West. Colonel Reeves arranged them in such a way that no star is above the other.

Flag historians point out that the number three appears often in state history. For example, three presidents hail from Tennessee (Jackson, Johnson, and Polk), and we were the third state to join the Union after the 13 colonies.

The fly end

Opposite the flagpole, our state flag features a strip of blue. Like the tri-star, we know exactly what it’s for thanks to Colonel Reeves’ detailed descriptions: to “relieve the sameness of the crimson field” and “contrast more strongly the other colors.”

In other words, we weren’t just trying to preserve state history with our flag. We also wanted to look stylish.

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