"Too Communistic Looking:" The Surprising Origins Of Baltimore County's Flag


[Cropped] The Flag of Baltimore County features the Calvert colors with a red plow and gear symbolizing the county's agricultural roots and industrial future. (Credit: Baltimore County Government)

BALTIMORE COUNTY - Every July 4th, a sea of national, state, and local flags billow proudly across Baltimore County, a testament to the shared pride and spirit of community that define this vibrant region.

Baltimore County's flag, adorned with the Calvert colors, is familiar to many residents who frequent post offices, courthouses, and political gathering's across the area.

Despite its modern prominence, a Baltimore County flag did not fly on the Fourth of July 1961 - because it did not exist

From 1920 and 1970, Baltimore County experienced one of the most explosive periods of growth anywhere in the country. The county gained over 540,000 new residents during this period, adding around 100,000 new residents every decade from 1940 to 1970.

Seeking to foster local pride and build an identity for rapidly growing the county, the Catonsville Business Association, with the backing of the then County Executive, Christian H. Kahl, and the County Council, decided to host a contest.

Tenth, eleventh, and twelfth-grade students across the county were invited to participate in the contest, which quickly became an enriching addition to the school's art curriculum. Hundreds of entries poured in from twelve different schools, with young talents showcasing their unique interpretations of what Baltimore County represented.

After extensive review and deliberation by a panel of experts, thirty designs were shortlisted. Among them was a design by John R. McLemore, a senior at Parkville High School. McLemore's submission combined the familiar Calvert colors with a plow and a wheel of industry in a clear nod to Baltimore County's prosperous agricultural roots and its industrial progress.

John R. McLemore's design. (Credit: Baltimore County Government)

Choosing a flag is typically among the most mundane local government decisions, but contemporary leaders did not see it that way.

According to a Baltimore Sun story from 1962, members had mixed reactions when the flag was first unfurled in front of the county council.

"It's a helluva-looking flag," cried a councilman.

"It's miserable… a monstrosity," cried another.

At the time, fears of the USSR and communist symbolism were front of mind for many local legislators, prompting members to question the use of the red plow on the flag. The council ultimately voted against the design, leaving the Parkville student empty-handed.

Despite the criticism, County Executive Kahl took a firm stance in support of McLemore's design. He expressed deep disappointment over the council's ridicule, voicing his embarrassment for the talented young student.

"'That plow is too big. Besides, they are not using that kind much [members said]'" At the bottom left a wheel cog, red on white, was denounced as 'too Communistic looking,'" Kahl told the Sun in 1962.

In an unprecedented move, Kahl decided to override the council's decision. He officially adopted the flag using executive authority, ensuring that McLemore's design would fly above Baltimore County's public buildings forever.

The following year, the flag gradually made its presence known across the county. From the Agricultural Building in Texas, Maryland, to the Courthouse in Towson, it flies proudly to this day.

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