SPEECH DELIVERED AT THE NATIONAL FLAG DAY PROGRAM ON AUGUST 24, 2019, MONROVIA, LIBERIA BY PROF. JOHNSON N. GWAIKOLO, REPRESENTATIVE, DISTRICT 9, NIMBA COUNTY AND CHAIRMAN, COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION AND PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am greatly honored by the invitation to be the National Orator at this August 24th National Flag Day Program. Let me extend my thanks and appreciation to the Organizing Committee for the opportunity granted me to speak to the Nation as we commemorate this very important symbol of our republic. As I stand here today, I am strengthened by the love from my family and friends, the support and appreciation from my Legislative Colleagues, the wisdom and guidance from Electoral District 9, Nimba County; the counsel and prayers of the religious community; and the outlook and future of the citizenry. Flags can come in all forms and shapes; different colors and designs; flags can be used for variety of reasons; and can be used on different occasions. Flags are made of various materials; and flags have purpose. Therefore, in order to understand the impact of the Liberian flag on society, I will briefly speak to you on the topic: The Meaning of the Liberian Flag.
The Liberian flag bears a striking resemblance to the American flag, a visible reminder of the historical ties between the Republic of Liberia and the United States of America. There are eleven horizontal stripes, six red and five white, a white star situated in a blue field in the upper left corner. The eleven stripes represent the eleven signers of the Liberian Declaration of Independence. The single white star that sits in the flag’s upper left corner signifies Liberia’s former position as the sole free black state in Africa. The blue field represents the dark continent of Africa.
Today, we are observing Flag Day, a patriotic day on which we pay homage to Liberia’s national emblem. This day is an official public holiday when flags are displayed by citizens and on public buildings; school children and military units parade the principal streets. The holiday was first observed in 1847 at a convention, when the founding fathers approved the flag’s design along with establishing the new republic. The national flag is a symbol of statehood that must be respected and honored, but not worshipped.
When growing up, we were taught to honor the flag. Honoring the flag is meant to reflect the values associated with loyalty, commitment, adherence, faithfulness, honesty, diligence and allegiance to country. Accordingly, the flag is not only a symbol of a country, its colors and designs allow one to appreciate the past history and look to the future of the country. It is important to note that our past history and our future aspirations affect our actions today.
History of National Flag Day
In July 1847, the Liberian Declaration of Independence was signed and adopted, announcing the independence of Liberia from the United States of America. About a month later, the national flag of Liberia was adopted. The first national flag of Liberia was adopted in 1827; it was very similar to the flag of today. It featured eleven red and white stripes with a blue square and white cross in the left hand corner. The current national flag was adopted after independence, with the white star replacing the cross.
The National Flag was designed and produced by a committee of seven ladies led by Mrs. Susannah Lewis along with Matilda Newport, Rachel Johnson, Mary Hunter, J.B. Russwurm, Conilette Teage, and Sara Dripper. These seven women were born in America. The flag has 11 horizontal red stripes representing the 11 men who signed the Liberian Declaration of Independence. The single star represents the freedom that formed the basis of Liberia which at the time was emblematic of the bright light that went forth across the rest of Africa. To some extent this was a reality as Liberia was never ruled by a European colonial power like all its neighbors in the rest of West Africa.
To make the observance of this day official, the Liberian Legislature approved an Act on 25 October 1915 declaring the 24th Day of August of each year as ‘National Flag Day’ to be observed as a National Holiday. Since then, the Government issues a presidential proclamation calling on the Ministry of Education and all other government agencies concerned to design programs befitting the day. On this day, all citizens of the Republic, foreign residents within the border are to give prominence to the observance of the day throughout the Republic by flying the National Flag from each dwelling and public building, and that all government offices, public and business houses are closed on this day. Hence, by similar proclamation, we are gathered here today.
Significance of the Flag
The eleven stripes of the flag symbolize the signatories to the Liberian Declaration of Independence; red symbolizing courage and white symbolizing moral excellence. The white star represents the first independent western-styled republic in Africa, and the blue square representing the African continent.
We were taught to pledge allegiance to the flag as follows:
“I pledge alliance to the Flag of Liberia
And to the Republic for which it stands
One Nation, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all!”
This mean that we are pronouncing and announcing our loyalty to the Republic of Liberia by recognizing the flag which represents the republic; and that the republic is a single nation that assures its people of liberty and freedom through justice and fair play for all. We as Liberians and residents of Liberia must live in Liberia and enjoy all the freedoms; freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of movement, freedom to own property; freedom to enjoy life. All these freedoms are to be protected under our justice system that must be free, transparent, and equitable. The flag is more than a stripy colorful rectangular piece of cloth that we carry in our hands; the flag must be carried in our hearts, in our actions, in our ways of life. The flag must be flown ahead of us with our eyes constantly focused on the shining star of light in darkness, red stripes of “valor unpretending,” and white stripes of moral uprightness.
Let’s now look briefly at the history of Liberia in the context of the pledge of loyalty to make Liberia a free and just place to live.
After the struggle for liberty in the American Revolution in the early 1800s, free and enslaved African Americans faced continued hardship and inequality. Some white Americans, for several reasons, joined them in their efforts to resolve this complex problem. One possible solution was to separate white and black Americans; therefore, there was a call for the return of African Americans to the land of their forebears. This was to be accomplished by the American Colonization Society. In this regard, the American Colonization Society sent its first group of immigrants to Sherbro Island in Sierra Leone. The island’s swampy, unhealthy conditions resulted in a high death rate among the settlers for which they relocated to what is now Liberia.
On July 26, 1847, The Liberian Declaration of Independence was adopted and signed. In it, Liberians charged the United States of America with injustices that made it necessary for them to leave and make new lives for themselves in Africa. In 1848, The Liberian Constitution was ratified and the first elections were held in the new republic.
It follows then that Liberia was founded to provide freedom, liberty, and justice to its inhabitants. The founding fathers were looking for freedom, be it political, economic, or social; by extension, they were to inculcate the freedom and tranquility so desired into the natives, the original inhabitants of the land. The Coat of Arms of the Republic of Liberia represents this well. The Coat of Arms features a gold-bordered shield with an image of a ship arriving to the land of Liberia with a rising sun. On the land is a plough, shovel and palm tree and above the ship is a white dove holding a letter. The scene is said to represent the slaves coming back from America to Liberia. Above the shield is the motto “THE LOVE OF LIBERTY BROUGHT US HERE” and below is “REPUBLIC OF LIBERIA.
The Coat of Arms suggests that Liberia is a promising land full of hope (rising sun); Liberia is a land of plentiful through dignity of labor (plough, shovel, palm tree); Liberia is a land of peace and reconciliation (white dove). The settlers came because they wanted liberty; the natives accepted them because they too wanted liberty.
However, mistrust, distrust, suspicion, intolerance, greed, and other vices created the condition that resulted into a military coup led by Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe, who assassinated President William R. Tolbert and overthrew the government in 1980. This ended Liberia’s first republic until 1986 when a new constitution established the second republic. Samuel K. Doe, then transitioned from military power to civilian rule.
In December of 1989, the same mistrust, distrust, suspicion, intolerance, greed, and other vices violently disrupted the liberty, peace, and harmony of the second republic, resulting into fourteen years of civil crisis. The end of the civil crisis brought in the third republic with the election of Charles Ghankay Taylor as President.
Today, we are living the third constitutionally elected Administration of the third republic under the leadership of H. E. Amb. Dr. George Manneh Weah as President. As we are in the second sitting of the third Administration of the third republic, we must know the meaning of our national flag and take cue from it and govern ourselves accordingly. The Liberian flag stands for liberty and freedom that form the basis of the republic, not suppression and oppression; the flag stands for hope for all within our borders, not doom and gloom; the flag stands for courage and moral excellence, not fear and lack of integrity.
There seems to be a disconnect with the values and principles the Liberian flag tries to instill in us Liberians. Hatred seems to be on the rise; social media posts are full of hate messages directed at everybody. Physical violence is creeping slowly as evidenced by the attack on the Deputy Inspector of Police and the electoral violence in District 15, Montserrado County.
No, Liberia is not to go in that direction. Liberia is to be the land in which we are our brothers’ keepers; Liberia is to be the land where our national policies and practices will attract investments to reverse the ailing economy; Liberia is to be the land where slum communities will be transformed into productive communities; Liberia is to be the land where political opponents are not life time enemies.
This brings me to the point that I am calling on the Government through the Ministry of Education to bring back civic education into the Liberian school system. We can begin this by teaching the Constitution of Liberia in our schools. Including the Constitution of Liberia into the curricula of the Liberian school system will help our students and citizens to understand their civic duties. Patriotism can be developed and strengthened if we know our civic duties and responsibilities.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, let us remember that the national flag is our past, the flag is our present, the flag is our future, the flag is our strength, the flag is our courage, the flag is our integrity. Uphold it and uphold Liberia.
God bless us all, thank you!