116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The black and red Juneteenth flag billowed outside City Hall as city staff and community members gathered Thursday morning to mark the first commemorative flag to be flown at a public building under a new city policy.
As a visual symbol of the city’s strides to be inclusive and welcoming of all residents and visitors, the Cedar Rapids City Council this Tuesday — Flag Day — adopted a Display of Flags policy to govern when commemorative, special occasion and other ceremonial flags may be flown on flagpoles at city-owned properties.
City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said the flag-raising was an exciting moment for the city, as the Juneteenth flag is important in the nation’s history. The flag, he said, provides a visual reminder to think about the nation’s past, present and future and to be “truly a city that welcomes all.”
“This flagpole and our gathering here today represents the work of our city team as well as our community as we have attempted and continue to work on our efforts to be a more diverse, more equitable and more inclusive city organization,” Pomeranz said.
The new policy permits commemorative flags to be flown on 11 special occasions: Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Arab American Heritage Month, Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
Also, Mental Health Awareness Month, LGBTQ+ Pride Month, Juneteenth, Hispanic Heritage Month, National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Native American Heritage Month and National Veterans and Military Families Month.
Under the policy, other commemorative, special-occasion and ceremonial flags may be displayed to recognize state or federal holidays, to commemorate any period recognized by local proclamation, to accompany any official city action or ceremony, or in conjunction with an event involving any official Cedar Rapids Sister Cities.
Elizabeth Buch, the city’s diversity, equity and inclusion manager, told the council that symbolic gestures go only so far, but this was an important moment for Cedar Rapids’ commitment to inclusion.
“By publicly supporting our marginalized groups within this community, we can continue to rebuild and create trust,” Buch said.
The Juneteenth flag will fly outside City Hall through the weekend.
Juneteenth, a new federal holiday, commemorates the anniversary of the last enslaved people to learn they were freed — on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas, nearly two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
Recognizing the significance of June 19, 1865, is “long overdue,” said LaNisha Cassell, executive director of the African American Museum of Iowa, who was joined by museum board president Nancy Humbles at the flag raising.
“The holiday and the flag raising should inspire us to all become more intentional about educating ourselves, not only about Juneteenth but other parts of our collective history that have long been held from our classrooms and our history books,” Cassell said.
Each onlooker briefly held the Juneteenth flag, passing it around to each other as an indicator of unity. Cassell said the flag was designed in 1997 and patented in 2000.
“This moment should also inspire us to use our platform and our voices for actions that demand equity for all people,” Cassell said.
After Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell read a Juneteenth proclamation, Parks and Recreation Director Hashim Taylor helped a staff member raise the flag.
The city recently launched its “Welcome is Our Language” campaign, and O’Donnell said it’s imperative that inclusion “becomes a mindset.”
“By events like today, in a symbolic moment like this, it is just one more signal that we can let the world know how intentional Cedar Rapids is about this,” O’Donnell said.
The five-colored chevron LGBTQ Pride flag will be raised Monday to recognize Pride Month, celebrated in June.
The traditional rainbow-striped flag is the widely recognized symbol of the LGBTQ community. This flag will include five additional colors within the chevron arrow-shaped lines — black and brown to represent LGBTQ communities of color, along with the pink, light blue and white colors used in the Transgender Pride flag.
Iowa lawmakers in the past have weighed legislation targeting the display of such commemorative flags by state and local governments.
After a flag observing Transgender Day of Remembrance flew over the state Capitol in November 2019 at the request of Iowa Safe Schools, an LGBTQ youth advocacy group, some GOP lawmakers introduced a bill that would have permitted only the U.S., Iowa and Prisoner of War flags to be flown on public property. The bill ultimately did not become law.
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