By: Jack Swift
I feel fortunate to be a citizen of the Great State of Tennessee. While the few places I have been have been impressive in my few travels, I always delight in coming back home to Tennessee, and especially to Johnson County. I am very interested in my state and county. And while I have written a lot about Johnson County, I haven’t written much about Tennessee. I was thinking recently about our state and some of the things about it and began to wonder about the state flag and its symbolism. Fortunately I was able to find some information about the Tennessee State Flag.
In my research, I found that the designer of the Tennessee Flag was a native and resident of Johnson City. Le Roy Reeves was his name. He was a young lawyer at the Johnson City Bar and captain of Company F of the Third Infantry Regiment, Tennessee National Guard when he decided that time was ripe for a state flag. So he set out to design the flag, a distinguished and recognizable symbol of the great state of Tennessee. The Flag Bill was introduced to the General Assembly by another Johnson City native, Walter W. Faw. Reeves’ design constituted the relative size of the flag, the colors of the flag and the arrangement of the elements of the flag in detail.
His design was described in the legislative bill that he drafted, and which bill became Act of 1905, chapter 498. The flag statute prescribed the specifications in detail but generally speaking it is as follows: The flag should be oblong, its length one and two-thirds it width. Its field to be red ending at outer edge in a perpendicular bar running from top to bottom and separated from the field of red by a white strip of a width to be one-fifth of the width of the blue bar. In the center of the field is placed a circular bar of blue, separated from the field of red by a white circular strip. Within the circular bar of blue there are three five-pointed stars of white.
The white stars symbolize the three grand division of the state — east, middle and west Tennessee. Those divisions recognize east Tennessee as mountainous, middle Tennessee as having a rolling landscape and west Tennessee as having rich river-bottom land.
A plaque was erected in Oak Hill Cemetery in Johnson City. It reads as follows: “In 1905 the Legislature adopted as the state flag one which was designed by Colonel Le Roy Reeves, a native and resident of Johnson City. The three stars represent the three grand divisions of Tennessee.
The flag was first raised by Company F of the National Guard on October 10, 1911, during the dedication ceremonies of East Tennessee State Normal School.”