Each state in the United States of America has many symbols that were adopted as the state established itself and the residents gained pride in their home. Every resident may not be familiar with their state’s flower or the state bird, but the state flag inspires a kind of pride that inhabits long-time residents and recent transplants. Kentucky is no exception, with a proud banner that flies over thousands of homes and buildings across the Bluegrass State.
The state of Kentucky is not a state at all, but one of our nation’s four commonwealths. There is not much distinction between the two terms, as that Kentucky functions much the same as any other state in the country. The term “commonwealth” is indicative of the spirit in which the territory gained statehood. It is an older English word that referred to a political community founded for the common good.
When the Commonwealth was founded in 1792, so strong was the spirit of unity the state flew the 15-star flag of the United States as both its state and national flag. The American flag remained the unofficial state flag until the Civil War, when Kentucky seceded to become a part of the Confederacy. After the war, the American flag returned as the prominent flag in the commonwealth.
The Kentucky General Assembly officially adopted the current state flag in 1918. It was designed and drawn by a prominent art teacher in the state’s capital city of Frankfurt, Jesse Cox Burgess.
The design was further solidified when an official drawing was included in the state’s statutes in 1928. However, the state seal continued to evolve on the flag until it was standardized later, in 1962.
Design and Symbolism
The design of Kentucky’s flag is minimalistic. Like many other state flags, it bears the state seal on a field of navy blue. States commonly adopt the navy field, and the blue color symbolizes virtues such as vigilance and justice. The state seal on the flag is surrounded by the words “Commonwealth of Kentucky” in gold above, and sits in stems of goldenrod, the state flower, below.
The state seal is the main adornment on Kentucky’s flag. It showcases a pioneer and a statesman shaking hands. State legend has it that the pioneer, dressed in traditional buckskins, is supposed to represent Daniel Boone, who is responsible for the exploration of Kentucky.
Legend also says that the statesmen represent the most famous statesman from Kentucky, Henry Clay, who later became Secretary of State for President John Quincy Adams. Official state documentation says the two figures represent all pioneers and all statesmen who came together to create the new commonwealth.
The seal also bears the motto of the commonwealth, “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.” This motto encircles the two figures shaking hands. It is derived from a popular song from the American Revolution, called the Liberty Song.
Kentuckians are proud of their flag and are one of only 17 states to have their own pledge, separate from the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag. Kentucky’s pledge was adopted, in 2000. It says, “I pledge allegiance to the Kentucky flag, and to the Sovereign state for which it stands, one Commonwealth, blessed with diversity, natural wealth, beauty, and grace from on High.” This pledge is recited along with the Pledge of Allegiance in schools.
While the state’s nickname does not appear on the flag, it is one of the most recognizable state nicknames – the Bluegrass State. Many people may attribute the nickname to the Bluegrass music that is popular there and in other states in the area, but it initially referred to the grass. Kentucky bluegrass is one of the most common types of grass seed used for lush lawns around the country, but it originated in the fertile soil of Kentucky’s pastures.
As the bluegrass music genre grew, Kentucky did come to recognize it as their official state music genre. The style didn’t have an official name until the 1960s, when it began to grow in popularity.
The most popular group at that time was led by Kentucky native, Bill Monroe. He and his band called themselves the Blue Grass Boys, and other groups adopted the name to describe their music.
Kentucky may be one of the smaller states in the Union, but the physical size is no measure of the pride of its residents. With 29 official state symbols and dozens of other unofficial representations, Kentuckians ensure their state is well known and recognized. The Kentucky flag flies proudly from homes, in classrooms and in businesses around the state and the homes of former residents across the country.