Resilience is on parade this Flag Day

Resilience is on parade this Flag Day
© Greg Nash

Not even the observation of Flag Day on June 14 is immune to COVID-19's shutdown. The residents of Quincy, Massachusetts, have held the longest-running Flag Day Parade in the nation. Last year's celebration included a parade, ceremony, fireworks display and a 50-foot-by-20 American flag overlooking the water. 

"It breaks my heart that we have to cancel Flag Day," Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch said last month about canceling 2020's festivities because of COVID-19, including the parade his father started in 1952. Koch's words from Quincy's 2019 Flag Day parade are especially fitting right now because of the racial tensions following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. 

"There are many differences we have in society," Koch said of the flag's symbolism of unity. "But that flag is something we all have in common "

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Quincy is also tied to a civil rights cause that celebrates its 100th anniversary this summer.  The resiliency of a few civil rights activists can inspire us this Flag Day. 

Congress adopted the first U.S. flag on June 14, 1777, which is Flag Day. A year earlier in 1776, Abigail Adams raised an important civil rights question. From her home in Quincy, she wrote her husband John Adams in Philadelphia and asked him to "remember the ladies" as he and other members of the Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence.  

Abigail believed that the Declaration's promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness applied to women. She embodied justice, the meaning of the color blue in the U.S. flag, which Congress defined on June 20, 1782: "Blue … signifies vigilance, perseverance and justice." Abigail's call to remember the ladies became the women's voting rights movement that launched in 1848.

Decades later in 1913, more than 5,000 women marched in Washington D.C.'s Women's Suffrage Parade. With flags waving, they paraded for a Constitutional amendment giving women in all states the right to vote. One marcher also demonstrated another meaning of the flag's field of blue: perseverance. 

In this era of segregation, controversy erupted over the participation of Ida B. Wells-Barnett, a former slave, in the parade's Illinois delegation. Born during the Civil War, Ida received an education as a free person and became a journalist. After writing articles about the lynching of her friends, a mob attacked her newspaper office in Memphis, forcing her to flee to Illinois. By the time of the suffrage parade, Ida was a well-known advocate for African Americans and women. 

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However, as the parade was about to begin, Ida’s participation was in jeopardy. “But some of the marchers from the states farther south had objected to her presence when the North and the South were lining up side-by-side, to await their places in the line," the Washington Herald reported. 

Ida quickly showed resilience. “But the Illinois women want me to march in their section,” she smiled to a Washington Herald reporter. “And I shall. Illinois is Lincoln’s state... As Illinois comes along, I’ll join them.” 

Ida waited with the crowd near the parade's start. When the Illinois delegation approached, she joined them. Chicago's Broad Ax praised her for breaking a color barrier. Ida paraded resilience, which is perseverance on a spring.

Flag Day in 1917 provided another opportunity to parade resilience. After peacefully protesting in front of the White House for six months in 1917, Lucy Burns and National Woman's Party members were told they would be arrested if they continued their nonviolent protest of silently holding banners. 

They took inspiration from President Woodrow Wilson’s Flag Day’s speech. Armed with their attorney’s assurance of their legal right to peacefully protest, they took a phrase from  Wilson's Flag Day speech, put it onto a new banner and held it up at the White House.

We shall fight for the things we have always held nearest our hearts, for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own government," their banner declared. They showed resilience and creativity by applying Wilson's Flag Day words to women's right to vote. They didn't reject the flag but showed that its aspirational meaning applied to them.

I write about Abigail, Ida and Lucy and many others in my upcoming book called Resilience on Parade: Short Stories of Suffragists and Women's Battle for the Vote. This year marks the 100th anniversary of all women winning the right to vote through the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

This year the residents of Quincy, Massachusetts, have also found another way to parade resilience this Flag Day. 

"Mayor Thomas P. Koch announced that the City of Quincy will maintain its proud tradition of honoring Ol’ Glory on Flag Day with a unique vehicle parade on June 14," the mayor's office announced in early June. Koch invited "people to decorate their cars and trucks and travel under a giant American flag that will be displayed by two fire department ladder trucks."

“The show must go on,” said Mayor Koch. “I am disappointed that we can’t conduct our usual festivities but we are going to make the most of it and carry on this great Quincy tradition. I encourage families to get creative, decorate your vehicle, and have some great fun.”

So the next time you see a U.S. flag-waving, think about those who have paraded resilience under it, such as Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Lucy Burns, Abigail Adams and Quincy's Flag Day safe vehicle parade. When you see a flag this summer, think about the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote in 1920. 

Let those who have gone before us inspire us while we parade resilience to recover from COVID-19 as we go back to work, get a haircut, go back to church, and seek solutions to racial divisions.

Jane Hampton Cook is a former White House webmaster for President George W. Bush. Her upcoming book is called, "Resilience on Parade: Short Stories of Suffragists and Women's Battle for the Vote."