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Black flag makers discuss latest controversy over national anthem


Our Weekly spoke with two African American U.S. flag makers about their thoughts on the active protest by professional athletes during the national anthem. But first, an overview of how the protest developed is in order:

Former San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Rand Kaepernick, (“Kap”) gained nationwide attention in 2016, when he chose not to stand during the “Star Spangled Banner” prior to a kick-off.  His decision not to stand was in protest to what he believed was unjust and unfair treatment of African Americans, particularly in regard to interactions with law enforcement:

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in August 2016.

Demonstrations span American sports

The demonstrations have generated mixed reactions whereas opponents to his stance have stated that such protests are unpatriotic and disrespectful to the flag and military, while proponents believe it is an opportunity for those who have such far-reaching platforms to create change.

In September 2017, President Donald Trump seemed to fuel the flames of the protest as he said NFL owners should respond to the players who refuse to stand by saying, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now; he’s fired!” Further, the president rescinded a White House invitation to the Golden State Warriors, following Steph Curry’s sharing of his opinion on and support of the protest:

‘We’re doing what we can using our platforms’

“You can talk about all the different personalities that have said things and done things—from Kaepernick to what happened with football player Michael Bennett to all sorts of examples of what has gone on in our country that has led to change,” Curry said. “We’re all trying to do what we can using our platforms, using our opportunities to shed light on that. That’s kind of where I stand on that. I don’t think us going to the White House will miraculously make everything better, but this is my opportunity to voice that.”

Mary Prescott, 81, sits patiently as her daughter prepares her lunch, and informs her that a reporter is here to speak with her about making flags. She smiles and invites me in. Prescott was employed by the United States Department of Defense as a textile worker, at the United States Defense Personnel Support Center, located in Philadelphia, Penn. She was assigned to the embroidery section from 1956 until 1975 as a seamstress, in addition to operating a huge embroidering machine she also used other sewing equipment for cutting, seaming, and stitching of the United States Flag.

“I was proud to work in the defense industry, and there were a lot of Blacks working there,” she said. “A lot of times we would have items that would not pass inspection, and I would bring those items home to my two sons. It could be military banners, armed forces flags, presidential pennants that were from the following administrations—Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford—, and marker flags for military air drops. They would share the items with other neighborhood boys.

‘We believed in the government’

“My husband and I felt, we as African Americans, were a patriotic people, regardless of how we were treated by our society. We believed in the government, we believed the country would eventually fix itself. Racism would go away and this society would work for us (African Americans), God willing.

“I was employed by the federal government, my husband was employed as a bricklayer and we believed in this country. We also believed that the nightly newscasts of police and attack dogs often seen biting Blacks would pass and those bad images would become remnants of history and individuals like Dr. Martin Luther King would convince this country to change its evil ways towards us. I guess you could say we were patriots.”

Prescott described how African Americans would take bundles of nylon fabric which was cut and stitched into large nylon flags that were folded when finished and placed on a large table to be boxed and shipped out to our service men.

Prescott was asked if she regretted doing her job after viewing the newscasts and she responded,  “yes,” in noting that during the Vietnam War she had to fill orders for “9 by 5s” in explaining that these flags were draped over the caskets of fallen American soldiers.  In the early 1960s, she remembered, the news footage of protesters being bitten by dogs and assaulted with fire hoses “demonstrated what the country stood for back then as a nation [functioning] on racism and White supremacy,” she said.

“A lot of African American boys from Philadelphia died over there, and it was a form of White supremacy because more Blacks (per capita) died in Vietnam than Whites,” Prescott explained.

‘I do not like this president’

Prescott was asked if she would have the same positive attitude about manufacturing the American flag today, and she responded “ no.” When asked why, she stated, “my granddaughters have shown me video footage that shows Black men being murdered by police; that’s awful, and I do not like this president (Trump). I do not like his approach. I have always loved the flag and the national anthem before Trump got involved. I always felt this was our country too.”

A Pew poll from July revealed that African American seniors are more patriotic than the younger generation of Blacks. President Trump’s track record with younger African Americans  (baby boomers forward) is influencing far less patriotism than what was the case over the last several presidential administrations.

Los Angeles native Martha Nash, 48, she has served time for a parole violation and recently was released from the Central California Women’s acility.

Nash calls herself a Vexillologist, or someone who works with flags. She worked in the industry for four years. She said she felt patriotic maybe twice while making flags, once on 9/11 and again when President Barack Obama was elected in 2008.

“It is very difficult to have a small amount of patriotism because of socio-economic conditions that led you to prison,” Nash said. “There are no rich people incarcerated, it’s all people of color. Not only did we make flags, we made products for Starbucks, Victoria’s Secret, and Mcdonald’s.

“Our wages were between 55 cents per hour to one dollar hourly. The correctional officers in the flag shop were arrogant as hell, and according to them, they were the true patriots. When we got our morning assignments they would stick their chest out and tell us how privileged we were to participate in the production of the flag. One officer told me it was like building the White House.”

“I informed her that the White House was built by slaves, She responded with, ‘and’”?

‘The government is not for Black people’

In reference to her patriotism, Nash’s response was: “This American government is not for Black people. What they are attempting to do is silence us. White America has always had a fear of Black athletes speaking out. It started with men of power like Jack Johnson, Muhammad Ali, and the 1968 Olympic guys. Imagine how they feel looking at NFL player’s protest today. The establishment has always had an attitude of these guys who are well paid and not living in the ghetto. They should just shut up.

“Younger Blacks are upset because we are considered anti-American, because we are not being treated fairly. Blacks that are in Mrs. Prescott’s era may have a different perspective on this country because today, we know we deserve more. Today there are Black people who are millionaires that look like us and talk like us, and are successful. The images of today are a testament of how powerful we can be. We see images of young self-made millionaires. We will no longer wait until this society repairs itself,” Nash said.

The “Star Spangled Banner” was written by Frances Scott Key, directly following the bombardment of Ft. McHenry in Maryland. The inspiration came from Key seeing the raised flag withstand the “rockets red glare” during the shelling of the fort. It is ironic that the first flag was made by one White woman, Mary Pickersgill, and two Black female slaves, one was recorded as Grace Wisher, a 13 year old and the others being Pickersgill’s 13-year-old daughter, Cardine, and 13-year-old niece, Eliza Young.