ABOVE PHOTO: Designer of the first African American flag, George Cooke next to his creation.
By Mike Bruton
George Cooke, at maybe the lowest point of a life that had already rife with hardships, had a vision.
Cooke was lying asleep in a Lancaster, PA. with his 6-year-old twin boys, George Jr. and Shavon, when something strange happened.
It was an event that reminds one of beliefs that are prevalent in West Africa, where many people believe their ancestors are very interested in their lives or as Christians believe, it was a message from God delivered by one of his angels.
“I was awakened by a spirit in a homeless shelter with my two children,” said Cooke, whose descent to the streets came in 2005 when the mother of his kids was diagnosed with cancer. “We were going through some tough times. I was going through some dark, tough times myself, also.”
Under the spell of alcoholism and drug addiction, Cooke’s wife would die before the year was over but on this night, his attention was held by a spirit, which prompted him to take pen and paper and design a flag.
“This spirit woke me up and told me how to draw it,” said Cooke, now 56. “It was like 4 o’clock in the morning. This spirit asked me to draw Africa. I can’t even draw and it told me to get up and draw Africa.
“I drew Africa and I said, `Maybe this is it.’ It said take two skeleton keys and cross (them) over Africa. It said, `Take two chains and put them at the bottom of each key.’ I drew the chains and then it said, `Now, break the chains,’” Cooke continued. “I thought, `Break the chains? With what?’ It said, `Three tiers, red, white and blue.’ When I did that, I knew something was different.”
What grew from this, also dressed with gold and the Black Liberation tri-colors of black, red and green from the 1970s, is what Cooke calls the official flag of African Americans.
It is something he views both as a saving grace and a milestone in his life, given that he remembers begging for food on the streets of Brooklyn as a young kid only to have his dreams of playing pro basketball dashed by several injuries years later after his folks moved to Lancaster where he attended J.P. McCaskey High School.
After that fateful night in the shelter, with much soul-searching and hard work, Cooke broke his personal chains of drug and alcohol.
“God showed me that this flag will hang across the United States,” said Cooke, who has lived in Philadelphia a year. “I’ve seen it and I believe it. Philadelphia is the biggest city I’ve come to (since designing the flag). I believe there is so much strength and pain, violence that if black people saw themselves as connected maybe they won’t be wanting to kill themselves (and each other).”
The obvious ideological clash, especially in the supercharged political atmosphere of the 21st century, why would black Americans, with Barack Obama in the White House, need their own flag?
Cooke, who has displayed the flag at public venues in both Reading and Lancaster, said he is yet to be confronted face-to-fact with that loaded question.
He has, however, received a rebuke in cyberspace.
“I had a hit on the Internet,” Cooke explained. “I put the flag on YouTube. I got a thumb’s down.”
That did little to stop Cooke, who has also designed several Afro-Centric images for T-Shirts and other products including one that shows Michelle and Barack Obama as super heroes like Captain America and Wonder Woman.
He intends to continue to show his wares at public gatherings.
“If you want to establish the truth about America, you have to tell the truth,” Cooke said. “It’s not about a flag that goes against the American flag. It’s about bringing us together so we can realize our accomplishments in America so we can fulfill our dreams as Americans.
Cooke swept his arm in a flourish and continued.
“We look around in the city and we see drugs, liquor stores and guns everywhere. How can we see the (American) dream,” Cooke exhorted. “When you go to a parade and they have the Dominican flag, the Puerto Rican flag. (When African American kids see them waving their flags) they’ve got to be thinking, `Where is our flag? It’s not that we see the red, white and blue as something bad but we don’t see it as something that portrays our inner being, our heritage.
“That’s what this flag does,” he added. “It’s not to take away from the American flag, it is to add on.”