Express & Star

Black Country flag 'racism' row: What is the flag and what does it represent?

What is the Black Country flag? Why has the Black Country flag been called 'racist'? What does the Black Country flag look like? Find out all you need to know here.

Last updated
The Black Country Flag was created in 2012 by schoolgirl Gracie Sheppard

What is the Black Country flag?

The Black Country flag is a regional flag representing the Black Country - an area of the West Midlands (see below).

It can be seen at landmarks across the region - including the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley - all year round, and is flown at many more places during the annual Black Country Festival in July and at even more on Black Country Day on July 14.

Its design was chosen by public vote in July 2012 (see below) and has been adopted by people from across the Black Country as a proud symbol of the area. The black, white and red flag has been spotted at England football matches, Glastonbury and even at a British Armed Forces base in Afghanistan.

What does the Black Country flag look like?

The Black Country flag flying above Dudley Castle

The flag features a white upright triangular shape flanked either side by red and black colours.

It also has a black and white chain with three links hanging across it.

What does the Black Country flag represent?

The Red House Glass Cone between Wordsley and Stourbridge

The flag's chain represents the manufacturing heritage of the area - specifically the chainmakers who were common during the Black Country's industrial heyday.

The white triangular shape is reminiscent of the glass cones (for example the Red House Cone in Wordsley) and iron furnaces common in Black Country architecture.

And the red and black colours were inspired by the words of Elihu Burrit, the American consul to Birmingham, who in 1862 described the region as "black by day and red by night," in reference to the industrial activity.

Who designed the Black Country flag?

Gracie Sheppard, a schoolgirl from Stourbridge, designed the flag during a competition in the run-up to the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and Olympic Games in 2012.

A total of 66 designs were submitted and 12-year-old Gracie made a six-strong shortlist before winning a public vote for her flag to be flown at the Black Country Living Museum.

She was announced as the winner on July 14, 2012, and the flag's popularity has grown ever since.

At the time Gracie explained her design, saying: "Because the local furnaces gave out smoke and grime during the day and glowed at night. That is why my flag background is both black and red, with the chains showing a typical product manufactured in the area.

"The white symbol in the middle represents the glass cone, which we have had since 1790 representing our glass-making heritage.”

Why is the Black Country flag controversial?

Wolverhampton South West MP Eleanor Smith giving her maiden speech

In 2015, social commentator and political activist Patrick Vernon described the flag as "offensive and insensitive" and said its chains were a 'disturbing' image of an industry that profited from the transatlantic slave trade and colonial rule in Africa.

Mr Vernon, who grew up in Wolverhampton, claimed the Black Country had shied away from addressing the role its industries played in slavery - saying the iconic chains were often used as shackles for slaves.

WATCH: Black Country residents on flag controversy

And the debate was brought up again in 2017 when recently-elected Labour MP Eleanor Smith called for the flag to be scrapped over its "offensive" imagery.

Ms Smith, the MP for Wolverhampton South West, used her maiden speech in the House of Commons to defend her stance, questioning whether it should be the Black Country's "only brand image".

However thousands of people, including Ms Smith's parliamentary Labour colleagues from the Black Country, disagree and say the flag represents a key part of the region's manufacturing heritage.

The issue returned in 2020 when West Midlands Fire Service banned its stations from flying the flag on Black Country Day due to "claims about the flag’s imagery and the potential link to slavery".

The service said it was "continuing to consider the information available about the flag.”

What is the Black Country?

Black Country Labour MPs Ian Austin, Tom Watson, Pat McFadden and Adrian Bailey with the flag at the Houses of Parliament

A region of the West Midlands to the west and north of Birmingham, the Black Country's boundaries don't exist on any official map and are the subject of a never-ending debate.

The term 'Black Country' refers to the region's industrial heritage and was first used during the 19th century towards the end of the Industrial Revolution.

The name is believed to believed to come from the soot and smoke that poured from the coal mines, foundries and forges that dominated the landscape during the 1800s.

The region officially includes much of the four neighbouring boroughs of Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton, however some interpret the Black Country as only referring to towns where the coal seam (bed of coal mined underground) comes to the surface.

Thus to traditionalists towns such as Blackheath, Oldbury, Cradley Heath, West Bromwich, Old Hill, Bilston, Dudley, Tipton, Wednesfield are all part of the Black Country, as well as parts of Walsall, Wednesbury and Halesowen.

However, by that definition Stourbridge, Smethwick, Warley and Wolverhampton would all be excluded.