The Struggle to Implement


The original flag, designed by Le Roy Reeves, that was first flown over the Johnson City armory on May 22, 1905. (courtesy of the Tennessee State Museum)

As soon as the Legislature formally adopted Reeves’ design, he personally ordered two flags from the M.C. Lilley Company in Columbus, Ohio; one for his use and one to send to the Adjutant General’s office in Nashville so it could be flown at the state Capitol.

The day his flag order arrived, May 22, 1905, Reeves presided over a flag raising ceremony at the armory for the National Guard’s Company F, Third Infantry, located at 308 East Main Street in Johnson City. This made Johnson City the first official location to fly the new state flag.

Reeves then immediately went to work reaching out to a number of civic organizations, newspapers, and state institutions to draw their attention to the flag and to encourage its use. However, as of 1908, the flag was apparently still not being flown at the state Capitol or being widely adopted. On October 8 of that year Reeves wrote:

“I have, since the adoption of the flag, written many letters and sent descriptions of the flag to various official organizations that should be interested in the matter, to state officials, newspapers, etc., trying to get the flag brought into more common use, but without very much success. At the Chickamauga maneuvers, this spring, troops from other states proudly carried their state colors. Those from Tennessee did not. . . . At our state fair [that] just closed, the flag of the state was conspicuous for its absence. There is, or should be, at the Capitol an eight foot flag that I bought and sent there, but it seems never to be displayed.”


Selection from a letter from Le Roy Reeves to Ross Wynn (1908-10-08)


Newspaper article from p. 4 of The Johnson City Staff (1917-02-21)

In July of 1908 Reeves also wrote to the Adjutant General to request that each regimental and battalion headquarter in the state receive a flag to be flown (see correspondence below). The Adjutant General expressed some hesitancy, asserting that the flag “needs too much explanation” for people to understand that it represents Tennessee. He implied that he would reach out to the Governor to see if the design could be changed in order to incentivize the flag’s broader use.

Reeves had reason to hope in early 1909, when the state Legislature passed two joint resolutions (Nos. 13 and 22) directing that two flags be purchased to fly over the Capitol.  But as of 1911, six years after the flag's official adoption by the state, that resolution had still not been acted upon.


Over the next five decades, Reeves won a number of small victories in his quest for a broad recognition and use of the flag, including in February 1917 when East Tennessee State University (known then as the Normal School) regularly began flying the state flag (see Johnson City Staff article at left) and again in 1932 when Reeves’ design was first entered into the official Tennessee Code, where all state laws are compiled. However, according to the scholar Steven A. Knowlton, it was 1960 before the state flag was flown over the Capitol on a regular basis (see "For Further Study" tab).

In 2005, in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the flag’s adoption, the state Legislature passed Joint Resolution 8 commemorating the state flag, and today – thanks in large part to Le Roy Reeves’ singular determination – the flag is widely recognized and broadly adopted, both in its entirety or simply with the three-star emblem used in isolation. A state historical marker, recognizing Reeves’ role in the flag, is on view at Johnson City’s Oak Hill Cemetery (Marker 1A 86).

The Struggle to Implement