1903: The Quest Begins


Original drawing of the Tennessee state flag, by Le Roy Reeves

On January 27, 1903, Le Roy Reeves wrote to S.E. Miller, Washington County's representative to the Tennessee House of Representatives, requesting his sponsorship for a bill "for the adoption of a State flag for Tennessee." The flag’s meaning, as described by Reeves, was "three forming one – the three stars of pure white representing the three grand divisions of the State, and bound together by the blue, thus forming one unit: the red being the symbol of protection, or defense. The white margins serve to bring the colors into stronger relief; the blue bar is to prevent the flag from seeming all red when hanging around the staff."

Miller introduced the bill on January 28, 1903, only to learn that Tennessee already had a state flag, which had been adopted in 1897. He informed Reeves of as much, and their full correspondence on the issue is included below (see "Select correspondence"). In his response, Reeves describes the 1897 flag as "not at all satisfactory" in its design, lacking "the airy grace that a flag should have" and containing poorly-chosen colors that "deaden each other." Arguing for the flag's inability to inspire a sense of patriotism, Reeves asks, "Can you imagine . . . a Tennessee soldier dying to snatch from the enemy a flag, the meaning of which is to him that the geological formation of Middle Tennessee varies from that of West Tennessee?"


Selection from a letter from Le Roy Reeves to S.E. Miller (1903-01-29).  The complete letter is available below.

Reeves' proposal gained at least some interest from the public, as a number of articles on the issue appeared in newspapers throughout the state in January and February of that year.  The Nashville Banner went as far as to recruit additional designs from Tennessee residents, several of which are included in the February 4, 1903 issue of the newspaper included below.  Reeves' response to the new designs, where he defends his proposal as superior, is also included below (see "Select newspaper clippings").

Interest in Reeves' design waned after March of 1903, and the bill never received a vote in either the House or the Senate. When the General Assembly next met, in 1905, Reeves was ready to make a second, and ultimately successful, attempt.

1903: The Quest Begins