Dear Editor:


As someone who considers Decorah my hometown, the town in which I spent my formative years, I avidly follow its developments even though I have moved away. Throughout the past few years I have watched the city council make many questionable decisions, but stood silent as the referendum on these decisions comes in the form of elections. However, a statement in the most recent City Council meeting caught my eye.

The statement made by the non-democratically elected council member “The Gadsden flag is a symbol of white supremacy” drove me past the point of maintaining my silence. While I do not debate the right of the council member to express her opinion, I reject her choice to present such a charged opinion as fact.

The history of the Gadsden flag is rich and until recently, patriotic and uncontroversial. The flag was created by Continental Colonel Christopher Gadsen during the American Revolution. The rattlesnake had long been emblematic of American frustration with British rule, dating back to a 1751 article in Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette and evolving from there. Quoting directly from the article on the Gadsden flag on usflag.org, “Other authors felt the rattlesnake was a good example of America’s virtues. They argued that it is unique to America; individually its rattles produce no sound, but united they can be heard by all; and while it does not attack unless provoked, it is deadly to step upon one.”

The Gadsden flag was used by Commodore Esek Hopkins, the Commander in Chief of the Continental Navy, as the personal standard of his flagship. A variation of the flag, the First Navy Jack, which features an uncoiled rattlesnake above the phrase “Don’t Tread on Me” has been used off and on by the US Navy aboard ships and on uniforms since 1975.

So I ask, why would it not be “appropriate” to fly the flag? Although the flag has been used by individuals attending white supremacist rallys, I would challenge anyone to provide a sound logical argument on how the Gadsden flag symbolizes white supremacy. Simply because individuals choose to misrepresent the meaning of the flag at a handful of hatred-borne events, does that change the centuries of history of the flag itself?

The Gadsden flag is a representation not only of American individuality but also a call for unity. Early representations of the rattlesnake featured it broken into pieces representing the fractured colonies above the phrase “Join or Die.” The snake growing together represents the strength of bond between the original colonies - the very foundation upon which our Constitution was created. 

While this vote has already taken place and the results are final, I would urge the council members who chose not to support the measure to not only evaluate their decision, but provide a factual, logical argument for their stance, rather than an opinion that misrepresents a patriotic emblem as one of hate. 


Micheal Foster

Minneapolis