Alaska's Flag

"Alaska's Flag" is the state song of Alaska. Unique among state songs, its lyrics explain the symbolism of the Alaskan flag. The lyrics are:

Eight stars of gold on a field of blue —
Alaska's flag. May it mean to you
The blue of the sea, the evening sky,
The mountain lakes, and the flow'rs nearby;
The gold of the early sourdough's dreams,
The precious gold of the hills and streams;
The brilliant stars in the northern sky,
The "Bear," the "Dipper," and, shining high,
The great North Star with its steady light,
O'er land and sea a beacon bright.
Alaska's flag — to Alaskans dear,
The simple flag of a last frontier.

The connection between the song and the flag happened both by design and circumstance. It was the result of the linkage among three individuals: Benny Benson, Marie Drake, and Elinor Dusenbury. They did not directly collaborate, but instead Marie Drake built on the work of Benny Benson, and Elinor Dusenbury built on the work of the other two. Benny Benson inspired the effort, Marie Drake wrote the lyrics, and Elinor Dusenbury composed the song.

Alaska's official flag is based on Benny Benson's design, which was submitted in a Territory-wide contest for schoolchildren sponsored by the American Legion in 1926. At that time Benny was a thirteen-year-old seventh-grader of Russian-Aleut and Swedish descent, studying at the Territorial School at Seward and a resident of the Jesse Lee Mission Home. The Alaska Territorial Legislature officially adopted his design on May 2, 1927. The proclamation praised his winning entry for, "its simplicity, its originality and its symbolism." On the design submission, Benny had written the following words of explanation: “The blue field is for the Alaska sky and the forget-me-not, an Alaska flower. The North Star is for the future of the state of Alaska, the most northerly in the Union. The dipper is for the Great Bear — symbolizing strength.”

Alaska Department of Education employee Marie Drake echoed Benny Benson's explanation of his design in a poem she wrote in 1935. Marie Drake had become the Territorial Assistant Commissioner of Education in 1934. She edited and wrote most of the material for the School Bulletin, which was circulated throughout the Territorial school system. The poem first appeared on the cover of the October 1935 School Bulletin.

Elinor Dusenbury soon composed a song around the poem and the flag. The wife of the Commanding Officer of the Chilkoot Barracks at Haines from 1933 to 1936, she had fallen deeply in love with Alaska, but she left when her husband was transferred. She said, "I wrote the music for Marie's beautiful poetry from pure unadulterated homesickness for Alaska! I shed more tears on the boat going out than I ever have before or since. I had a book on Alaska with the picture of the flag and Marie's poem." In the summer of 1938 Dusenbury visited Juneau and played her setting of the poem for Marie on the piano at the Baranof Hotel. Happiness came to the poet's eyes.

The song began gradually to be played unofficially, and steadily grew in popularity over the next two decades. To the surprise and delight of both women, the Territorial Legislature adopted "Alaska's Flag" in 1955. It became the official State song when the Territory of Alaska entered the union as the 49th state in 1959.

Read more about Alaska's Flag:  Historical Notes

Famous quotes containing the word flag:

    What is Americanism? Every one has a different answer. Some people say it is never to submit to the dictation of a King. Others say Americanism is the pride of liberty and the defence of an insult to the flag with their gore. When some half-developed person tramples on that flag, we should be ready to pour out the blood of the nation, they say. But do we not sit in silence when that flag waves over living conditions which should be an insult to all patriotism?
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