Ari Dubow / Sun Staff Writer

The Pan-African flag is being flown at Ithaca Town Hall. The flag is also being flown at City Hall for the duration of Black History Month.

February 26, 2020

Pan-African Flag Flies Above City Hall For First Time in Ithaca History

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Correction appended.

For the first time, the Pan-African flag is being flown atop Ithaca City Hall in recognition of Black History Month.

But for Tompkins County Legislator Henry Granison J.D. ’88 (D-3rd District), who spearheaded the initiative, this moment represents just another step in his plan to fly the flag on more buildings.

The Pan-African flag, adopted in 1920 by the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, represents a connectdness of the African Diaspora, black nationalism and black freedom –– elements of Garveyism. Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican political activist, founded the UNIA-ACL in 1914 to promote black nationalism.

“To see the flag flying on the post at a government building really gives you a sense of belonging,” Granison told The Sun.

While this is the first time the flag was flown atop Ithaca City Hall, Granison used the County Legislature’s authority to fly the Pan-African flag on county buildings in 2019. The flag is also being flown at Ithaca Town Hall.

This year, Granison worked with the Ithaca Common Council sub-committee to fly the flag on City Hall, which granted Granison’s application to fly the flag for the remainder of February on Feb. 5.

“There was no hiccup or anything else,” Granison said, though noted that the city clerk reportedly “forgot” to fly the flag the day after the application was approved until after an email reminder.

“I checked with the county administrator, and he said he knew of no other county in New York State that [flies] it,” Granison added.

Not all, however, support the flag’s ascent onto Ithaca’s government buildings: Prof. Russell Rickford, history, called it “empty symbolism.”

“It’s especially ironic that the symbol of black liberation flies above this town,” Rickford said, slamming the city’s record on police brutality and marginalization of black residents. “You can’t have symbolism without the substance.”

“At a time when powerful landlords and developers are buying up the town and pushing people to the margins of Ithaca and into its outlying area into its periphery that at this moment officials should see fit to fly the flag of black liberation,” Rickford said.

“We don’t need tokenism,” Rickford continued, “and we don’t need an ornament.”

Granison’s next goal is to fly the flag above the New York State Capitol Building. In 2019, the LGBT pride flag flew over the capitol building. In 2017, the pride flag mounted Ithaca City Hall, which inspired Granison to apply for flying the Pan-African flag.

“The pride people flew the pride flag, and so I thought, why can’t we fly the Pan-African flag,” Granison said. “This is our representation.”

Granison hopes Ithacans realize the power and meaning behind the flag: “Hopefully everyone understands that, it really is for a unifying nature and something that we can all be proud of.”

Lucas Reyes ’21 contributed reporting to this story. 

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Henry Granison’s J.D. ’88 name. The article has been updated with the correct spelling of Granison’s name.