The City of Albany flag made by Johnin
The City of Albany flag flies over City Hall on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020, in Albany, N.Y. A proposed city council resolution calls for a commission to look at overhauling the city?•s flag, saying the historic Dutch flag it is based upon was later co-opted by racist far-right political organizations. (Will Waldron/Times Union)
ALBANY — A city councilman is proposing Albany look at changing its flag because the Dutch flag it is based on was later used by Dutch Nazis.
Councilman Owusu Anane said the city needs to have a discussion about what the city’s flag represents and if it represents Albany correctly.
“Many residents have noted the inherent hypocrisy of a city that talks about equity and diversity and promoting our diversity when our flag resembles white supremacy. This is not new,” he said during a Common Council caucus meeting Wednesday.
Anane wrote a resolution that would authorize Mayor Kathy Sheehan to form a commission to study the issue.
Much of the resolution’s language appears to be based on an online petition to change the city’s flag started by Adam Aleksic, a Harvard University student from Albany. In addition to pointing out the flag’s connection to the Dutch Nazi Party and other white supremacist groups, Aleksic said the flag is poorly designed, according to vexillologists, or those who study flags.
For those who haven’t seen Albany’s flag, it includes orange, white and blue stripes. Inside the white stripe is the city's 1789 coat of arms -- a farmer and an Native American standing on either side of a shield containing wheat sheaves and a beaver chewing a tree, topped by a Dutch sailing sloop. Underneath that is a scroll containing the city motto: "Assiduity,'' which means the quality of acting with constant and careful attention.
It was created as part of the 1909 Hudson Fulton Celebration, which commemorated both Dutch explorer Henry Hudson’s exploration of the Hudson River and Robert Fulton’s invention of steam-powered navigation.
Aleksic, in a Dec. 3 letter to the Times Union, notes that city’s flag is based on the orange, white and blue striped flag of the Dutch Republic, also known as the Prince’s Flag, which flew from the late 16th century until 1795 when the Dutch government was overthrown.
The Prince’s Flag later became a symbol for the Dutch Nazi Party in the 1930s and is still flown by some far-right politicians in the Netherlands. It also served as the backdrop for the South African flag during the apartheid era and was flown by the Dutch East India Co., which was part of the slave trade.
Albany isn’t the only city in the country to use the Prince’s Flag in its own design. New York City’s flag is similar, though the stripes runs vertically, rather than horizontally. Nassau County, the Bronx, and Jersey City, N.J., also have blue, orange and white stripes in their flags.
Anane’s resolution doesn’t specifically call for any single redesign. Instead, it’s limited to calls for a study.
Councilman Kelly Kimbrough questioned whether the resolution was needed and said the council can’t authorize the mayor to form a commission.
“I’m not sure this is necessary,” he told Anane. “Changing the flag is necessary and a discussion should be had.”
It’s unclear whether the resolution will result in a commission being formed but Sheehan has already moved away from using the city’s seal, which includes the coat of arms displayed on the city flag.
In a Dec. 22 interview with WAMC, Sheehan said the city was using a logo designed by St. Rose students for most letters and documents, except when legally required. Sheehan said she can’t change the seal on her own because the design is part of the city’s charter.
“I do think we need to revisit the city seal. In my office and throughout the city we’re going to be shifting away from using the city seal,” she said.
Sheehan noted other cities across the country had taken similar steps.
In June, Sheehan made a move to counter hurtful New York history by announcing her intention to move the statue of Philip Schuyler, Revolutionary War general and owner of enslaved persons, from its almost century-old perch in front of City Hall.
A spokesman for Sheehan did not immediately return a request for comment Friday on whether the mayor supported changing the city’s flag.