The solid black flag has been seen throughout many key points of history, and in many different geographical areas as well. In spite of its prevalence throughout the years, it’s most often tied back to the United States during the American Civil War.
Though used in a number of different historical events, the meaning of the black flag is rather concrete. Though to some, the color black may be one of sophistication and mystery, to see a flag fly without a lick of color is something that is meant to invoke fear, worry, and even paranoia.
In this article, we’ll break down where you can find black flags throughout history, and what they mean overall.
The Meaning Of The Black Flag
It’s more than likely that the black flag was first made as the counter to the famous white flag, which was used in war times to symbolize surrender, backing down, or the formation of a truce. On the opposite end of the color spectrum from white is black, so it makes sense that black is used to signify the polar opposite of sacrifice.
Rather than signifying surrender, an entirely black flag symbolizes the lack thereof. To see this flag fly means that whoever posted it is giving a warning to their enemies that they are not going to back down, that they won’t go easy on the opposition, and that they’re there to the death.
It was a warning, and was often flown during times when one side was trying to negotiate a treaty with the other, and was a way to cease all negotiations present and thereafter. Not only that, but rather than the two opponents finding neutrality, or being taken prisoner, the sight of a black flag was more of a promise of death than any other symbol during war.
Historical Instances Of The Black Flag
Black most likely became associated with death during the days when pirates ruled the seas- specifically during the time of the Black Plague. Depending on the number of infected passengers on board, pirate ships flew a yellow and black checkered flag (some passengers are infected), or an all-black flag, sometimes with crossbones (all passengers were infected).
Even after the days of the Black Plague, the color kept its association with death. When other pirates saw a ship being flown with a black flag then, it meant that if they were to surrender, mercy would be shown to them if they were taken on board. However, if they were to fight, they would not survive.
During the American Civil War, the black flag made another appearance. It was most common during the years of 1861-1865. Most regularly flown by the Confederate Army units, the black flag told the Union troops that the Confederates were not going to surrender, offer mercy, and that they weren’t going to show kindness to any members of the opposition.
The black flag was also a symbol of Anarchy during the 1800s- and was chosen for its symbolism of unrest, the anger in the country, and the sadness as well. However, it was also selected to be a color of determination and change, and was the primary symbol for the political movement until the creation of the “circle A”.