“A past that embraced slavery and racism”: One designer’s goal to redesign the American flag
Steven Horton Jr. wants to create a flag specifically for Black Americans, who he feels have not been represented by America’s current star-spangled banner.
- Dalia Al-Dujaili
- 8 October 2021
“The American flag has become a symbol of division,” states Steven Horton Jr. “It is a symbol of the past. A past that embraced slavery and racism.” These words introduce us to a flag that newly symbolises a Black America.
A flag that is often waved and brandished in staunch patriotism, the American flag has come to be perceived by ethnic minorities in the US and around the world as a symbol of the darker side of American nationalism. As a Black man in America, Steven feels the American flag is often used to look backwards, rather than forwards. Steven thought it was very telling that the American flag was not used during the Black Lives Matter protests of last year. The flag evidently is not used by all Americans as a proud or positive representation of how they experience America. With this in mind, he’s been working to create a new symbol, one that shows a path forward for freedom, equality and justice. Inspired by the Black Liberation Flag created by Marcus Garvey, he hopes to introduce a new flag for a modern movement.
Steven’s graphic design journey started just a few years ago, as a self-taught graphic designer. As it turns out, he taught himself pretty well. After moving to Oregon in 2018, he landed an internship and contract with the Nike design department. “My time there helped me to polish my design skills and understand more about the design process.” Now, he’s expanding his graphic design skills as a junior designer at Apple.
Steven puts his racial identity at the forefront of his creative work, despite a wide range of design interests. For example, whilst at Nike, he designed the 2021 Martin Luther King Jr. and Black History Month warm-up T-shirt. “Sharing my perspective as a Black designer has been a common theme over my first few years of being a designer,” he tells It’s Nice That.
This year saw Steven begin a summer internship at The New Company where he was tasked with creating a piece of work that was unique and personal to him. Cue his latest project, the Black Justice flag, created in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement following George Floyd’s death. “As a Black American, I felt I could express my thoughts, pain, and hope through design. I was inspired by Marcus Garvey’s Pan-African Flag and David Hammond’s African American flag.” Not only acting as a stunning and provocative artwork, the piece is practical too: “I thought to create a flag that protestors could wave, symbolising the demand for justice and equality for Black Americans.”
“The New Company and I decided to produce a small batch of flags and remit any proceeds to the Black Lives Matter organisation,” continues Steven. They then created a website to tell the story of the flag and made the content available to download. “Ultimately, the website allowed us to easily share the story with anyone online – which was necessary during the pandemic – provide resources and allow for donations to BLM.”
The design process was thorough, nuanced and speculative. Steven began by asking Black friends and family members to share their thoughts on the American flag. The responses helped Steven determine a purpose for the new flag: justice for Black Americans. He then performed research on other flags where he learned the importance of the markings and colours.
“I started the concepting phase where I considered different colours. I learned that the colours of a flag carry significant meaning,” says Steven. The flag, as a result, has many meanings folded into its colours and geometric symbols. Because red has been used to represent bloodshed, this was something Steven wanted to incorporate into his flag. “Countless Black Americans have died on the streets of America, in their homes, on their walk home. We fight for change for those that have lost their lives.” He also decided to also incorporate yellow to represent the median on the road where protests were taking place by thousands. “The yellow would come to symbolise the new path forward to a better future.”
Stripes stacked horizontally and symmetrically give the flag a design intention: “I decided to widen the start of the marking and narrow the marking as it reached the end of the flag,” explains Steven. This was done, he expands, to create the visual effect of what a road would look like if one were to stand within it and look forward.
Steven connected with Forest Young, a senior design director at Rivian during this phase. He was aware of a typeface Forest creatively directed, Redaction, and thought the inspiration behind the type would be apt for the story Steven was trying to tell. “Redaction is inspired by legal documents filed by civil rights courts,” Steven tells It’s Nice That, “which ties into my goal to highlight the injustices Black Americans face.”
You can follow and download the Black Justice Flag and its content here.
GallerySteven Horton Jr.: Black Justice Flag (Copyright © Steven Horton Jr., 2021)
Steven Horton Jr.: Black Justice Flag (Copyright © Steven Horton Jr., 2021)
About the Author
Dalia joined It’s Nice That as a news writer in July 2021 after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh. She's written for various indie publications such as Azeema and Notion, and ran her own magazine and newsletter platforming marginalised creativity.