Oh, Say, Can You See? The Mystery Flag of Birmingham

800px Flag of Birmingham Alabama.svg Oh, Say, Can You See? The Mystery Flag of Birmingham

On August 18th, 1925, Birmingham officially declared the final version of its city flag. This is a belated birthday post. My apologies, Mrs. Idyl King Sorsby, creator of the flag, may she rest in peace (at Oakhill Cemetery). The City of Birmingham has considered new flags on several occasions, but the red and white banner continues to be irreplaceable. What makes our flag so special that it refuses to yield?  

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Birmingham’s most famous flag has an extra ‘g’ in it.

There’s the impressive fact that the red star in the center of the flag survived the Red Scare. It also has been ranked fairly well according to the North American Vexillological Society, who are nothing less than brutal to city flags that are on the “worst” list. Birmingham’s flag ranked in at 39 out of 450, and after seeing some of the “worst” flags, perhaps it makes sense that there was reluctance to surrender the red star.

2000px Flag of Provo Utah 1985 2015.svg Oh, Say, Can You See? The Mystery Flag of Birmingham
Not naming any names, but some cities have had some pretty bad flags.

In 1926, Birmingham, England was presented with a Birmingham, Alabama flag, though they chose to stick with their coat of arms, continuing the tradition of only sharing a name on paper and not much else.

Office Supplies Birmingham UK Oh, Say, Can You See? The Mystery Flag of Birmingham
That’s a different kind of football culture, folks.

The design, as for all good flags (according to the North American Vexillological Society), tells the beholder everything good, bold, and pious about a place. Birmingham’s flag is a grand testament to the virtue of its citizens and reputation! According to Bertha Bendall Norton, author of  Birmingham’s First Magic Century: Were You There?, the flag contains the following symbols:

“The white symbolizes the purity of Birmingham’s women.

The red typifies the valor of Birmingham’s men.

The gold hints at the mineral wealth of the Birmingham District, and also represents the ‘high standard of purpose and character’ of our citizens.

The large red star represents the marvel of the young city

The Seal of Birmingham, inscribed with the date of founding, 1871, occupies a gold-colored ‘hub’ in the center of the star. The hub signifies that Birmingham is considered the industrial, financial and literary hub of the South.

The star is circumscribed by a circle of 67 small golden stars, representing Alabama’s 67 counties enjoying Birmingham’s glory.

A radiance of alternating long and short rays outside the circle of stars depict Birmingham’s fame and prosperity, and suggests that ‘all roads lead to Birmingham’.”


But, until falling down a Wikipedia wormhole at an odd hour of the morning, I had never, to my knowledge, seen the Birmingham flag in person. I know the state flag, I have seen it all around the city. I have seen it on postcards at the airport and in vintage format when digging through the bins at What’s on 2nd. Where, oh where, does our star-spangled yet wave?

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If you see the flag flying, take a picture of it and tag Bham Now on Instagram! I feel inclined to call this a flagenger hunt, but of course, let me know if you have a better name for this challenge.

Please, come up with a better name for my flagenger hunt.

Happy flag-finding! 

Liz Brody
Liz Brody

ASFA grad, BSC senior; I write about Jewish stuff, food, and Jewish food.

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