The History of the Controversial State Flag of South Carolina

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May 2, 2023 by Moonville Mae

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The History of the Controversial State Flag of South Carolina

Dr. Anne Peden, Piedmont Historic Preservation Society

S563-1.jpgSouth Carolina’s standard is one of the most recognizable flags in the nation with the iconic Palmetto tree and white crescent moon.  Or is it a moon?  What else could it be if not a moon?  It’s shining over our beloved Palmetto tree, isn’t it?  The tree that helped us fight off the British fleet that attacked Fort Sullivan on June 28, 1776.  Col. Moultrie designed the very first flag prior to that battle and the word LIB-ERTY was prominent, not the tree. 

So, how did the flag get the Palmetto tree front and center?  That story is surely one of the best in South Carolina’s history and most of us know it by heart since the spongy tree cast the cannon balls to the ground and the patriots stood their ground winning the battle.  But what about that crescent?  Is it really the moon casting glimmering light over a Low Country beach bordered with palmetto palms?  What a lovely scene to represent!  It should be so then, shouldn’t it?  And what about the Palmetto tree?  Isn’t it lovely?  But did you know that there has been no official flag design for all those years?  That’s right, if you want to make your own design, go right ahead.  For a while anyway.  At least until the State Legislature steps up and selects their favorite.

The tree and the crescent have been drawn many ways over the life of South Carolina, and when a movement was introduced in the legislature a couple of years ago to choose an official banner, the choices of the beloved tree looked strange to many South Carolinians.  An uproar sounded across the land from the mountains to the sea, and the vote never materialized.  Brought back to the legislative session again this year, it has stalled.  Maybe no one has the courage to tackle such a topic that every faithful citizen holds dear.  Maybe the flag we know best (the one we are accustomed to during our own lifetime) is the one we accept as the best no matter what the historical record tells us.  Maybe we are “sot” in our ways of thinking?  Oh, no!  That couldn’t be.  Not us South Carolinians. 

So come and join the Piedmont Historical Preservation Society to hear what flag historian, Dr. Emerson, has to say about our state standard, learn how it has evolved over the ages, and vote for your choice.  After all, the flag belongs to all South Carolinians.

Dr. Eric Emerson leads the State Historic Preservation Office and oversees the State Archives in Columbia.  He has also served on the official flag design committee.  We are excited that he will be with us to discuss his research on how our state flag has evolved over the last nearly 250 years and share about the controversy that select-ing an official design has engendered.   

Anne Peden, Phd. Greenville County Historic Preservation Commission
Fork Shoals Historical Society Piedmont Historical Preservation Society■

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