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Hand back your OBE, race campaigner in Black Country flag storm is told

Dudley | News | Published:

The campaigner who branded the Black Country flag 'offensive' and 'insensitive' is facing calls to hand back his OBE.

Historian and equalities campaigner Patrick Vernon said the use of chains on the flag represented a disturbing image of an industry that profited from slavery and colonial rule in Africa.

But he faced a furious backlash on Black Country Day as council leaders and festival organisers defended the flag, designed by schoolgirl Gracie Sheppard.

And Wolverhampton-born Mr Vernon, who now lives in London, faced accusations of hypocrisy because he was made a member of the Order of the British Empire. Critics said the empire's past also involved slavery.

Dudley Council leader Pete Lowe said: "I have publicly requested Mr Vernon apologises for his divisive words concerning our community Black Country Flag and hands back his OBE.

"If he thinks the flag has connotations why would he have accepted an OBE with the connotations that has? Many refused on principle."

Express & Star reader Gurmej Badesha, a photographer from Smethwick, added: "The British Empire played a most degrading and oppressive role in the lives of Black people.

"Mr Vernon has a point about the need to remember the terrible things in our history but why does he keep his OBE when he feels this way about a flag?"

Mr Vernon, however, stood by his remarks despite an online backlash that saw 95 per cent of Express & Star readers who voted in an online poll say the flag was not offensive. And he said he would not be handing back his OBE. He said: "I have accepted the OBE and given this to my parents as part of the Windrush Generation's hard work and contribution to post war Britain which is still not being valued and recognised today."

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Gracie Sheppard, flies the Black Country flag she designed. Gracie is seen with councillors David Sparks, left, and Pete Lowe.

Gracie Sheppard's father David said: "She researched how to design a flag, keeping it simple, relevant colours and telling a story.

"She then researched the Black Country - glass making, chain making, and the saying black by day, red by night. That's it. It is more than just a flag, it is a symbol of what makes the Black Country what it is, and I'm proud to see so many people proudly showing it and rallying behind it."

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