Various textiles, fabrics, tapestries, designs, stitching, appliqués, print stamping and colors upon beautiful colors make up flags from around the world.

At the Museum of the American Revolution’s latest exhibition, visitors get to see how all of these elements can exalt political voices and power movements. These movements include the abolition of slavery and the fight for Black male suffrage.

The “Flags and Founding Documents, 1776-Today” exhibition, open through Sept. 6, 2021, takes both in-person and virtual visitors on a unique exploration. It shows how something as basic as a flag can be radical, controversial and unifying.

The museum’s Curator of Exhibitions Matthew Skic described how some flags conveyed sentiments about slavery, voting rights, inclusion and equity. The 5,000 square-foot exhibition, part of the museum’s “Revolutionary Summer,” is in the Patriots Galley.

“It explores a growing nation, how it relates to today and constitutional issues,” he said.

During a recent tour, Skic interspersed facts about the 43 flags on display with the impressive collection of related documents of that specific time.

The flags visually tell the story of how the United States has grown with the addition and subtraction of stars through the Civil War.

Many are familiar with the “Betsy Ross” flag, which has 13 alternating red-and-white stripes with stars in a field of blue in the upper-left corner. The 13 five-pointed stars are arranged in a circle representing the 13 colonies. There are a few other versions that collectors have found.

For example:

• A 13-star flag, circa 1800-1825, featuring a “Great Star” pattern — a star made out of stars — one of the earliest American flags known to survive. This flag shows some wear and tear.

• A nearly 9-foot-wide anti-slavery flag circa 1861 featuring 13 black and white stripes and 23 stars, which excluded the Confederate states from its star count. The flag reads “No Union With Slavery.”

• A circa 1846-48 flag, believed to have been carried during the Civil War, that was likely made to represent the 14 free states where slavery was illegal.

• An anti-Vietnam War version of the American national flag bearing 50 stars arranged in a peace symbol.

The oldest version of the American flag has some obvious wear and tear. Skic said that the evidence of damage and continuing repair show a lot about how the flag may have been used and where.

“You can get a sense of its history just from looking at it,” he said as he pointed out various stitches that were done in different patterns and most likely by different people.

Among the notable documents accompanying the flags in the exhibition there are:

• A rare, original first printing of the proposed U.S. Constitution of 1787.

• The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, printed by John Dunlap in 1776.

• A printing of the Bill of Rights as Proposed by the House of Representatives (17 Amendments) in 1789.

• The Constitution and Laws of the Choctaw Nation, written in 1838.

• A printing of the Constitution of the Proposed State of Wyoming, which granted women the right to vote in 1889, three decades before the 19th Amendment.

• The majority opinion of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney in the 1857 case of Dred Scott v. Sandford, which claimed that Black people could never become American citizens.

Most of the documents in the exhibition come from the Dorothy Tapper Goldman Foundation’s collection, while others are on loan from The Rosenbach.

“It is my deepest wish that this exhibition will inspire all of us to have an impact on our future by participating in the governance of the United States,” said Dorothy Tapper Goldman, a collector and philanthropist. “This is how we became a nation, and this is how we will keep our republic strong.”

Also, there’s the True Colours Flag Project, with 14 handmade flags from the Revolutionary War-era in the upper portion of the museum. There are also some hands-on experiences for visitors being offered in this section.

Julie Nance was visiting the museum last week with two of her grandchildren, who are 11 and 15.

“I want them to see where they come from not just as Black people, but as American people,” she said. “This museum is a hidden gem.”

For more information, go to The museum is open to the public daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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