COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – A South Carolina Senate committee went for symmetry over a more natural look as it made a recommendation Wednesday to standardize the state’s iconic palmetto tree and crescent flag.
But the Family and Veterans Services Committee acknowledged the argument is far from over. More designs are likely to come up as amendments as the bill moves on to the Senate floor. Senators acknowledged their phones are ringing and email inboxes filling over the issue.
“This is the one we will send. If someone wants to look into it further and strike and amend and have an upside down flag, they can do that,” said committee chairwoman Katrina Shealy, a Republican from Lexington.
Without a standard design, the flags that fly over the Statehouse and stand in the governor’s office and in other places around the state may not completely match: The palmetto trees may be shaped differently and the background on some may be a deeper shade of indigo than on others.
The style varies among manufacturers for flags to be used indoors or outdoors, with the state usually picking who offers the lowest price at any given time.
In 2018, legislators created a committee of historians who carefully studied the state flags that South Carolina has used over the past 250 years. They came up with a historically accurate design that was roundly criticized because the palmetto tree looked sickly to some and to others, like it had barely survived a hurricane.
The committee went back to the drawing board and used more contemporary 20th century designs.
The Senate committee Wednesday picked a design with a symmetrical tree instead of the one with a more natural, but hardy look after South Carolina Department of Archives and History Director Eric Emerson said that was the one that had the most support from the historians.
Emerson somewhat drolly reminded the senators that the committee previously had recommended “the first design that everybody hated.”
But Shealy said the committee needed to pick something to prevent chaos later.
“Let’s give them one option on the floor. Lord knows we don’t need to give them too many options with 46 people,” Shealy said, referring to the number of lawmakers in the Senate.
Over the past few decades, South Carolina’s palmetto tree and crescent has become one of the nation’s best known designs for a state flag. It shows up everywhere, including on flip-flops whose soles leave the tree and crescent in the sand; necklaces and ties worn by state leaders; mailbox flags and insulated beer can holders.
The palmetto tree and crescent that appear on the flag have symbolic value going back to the 1776 Battle of Sullivan’s Island, in which Col. William Moultrie’s 2nd South Carolina Regiment beat the British near Charleston, then known as Charlestown.
The crescent was worn by Moultrie’s soldiers, who wore indigo uniforms because the crop that can be used to make blue-shaded dye grew abundantly 250 years ago. The palmetto tree honors the material that soldiers used to hastily construct a fort. British cannonballs bounced off the trees’ spongy bark and the invaders couldn’t get onshore.
Sen. Thomas McElveen said he will propose an alternate idea on the Senate floor: a design based on elements of the banner that was briefly used as the official flag in the 1930s. Problems with production and what may have been jealousy on the part of then-Secretary of the Historical Commission A.S. Salley Jr. toward flag designer Ellen Heyward Jervey, led lawmakers to repeal its official status.
“The fight is going to be on the tree and how it looks,” said McElveen, a Democrat from Sumter.
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