The orange hue of June

Albany's coat of arms

Albany's coat of arms was adopted by the Common Council in 1789.

As we prepare to bid June adieu, it’s worth tying together a few historical threads that tangled in this, the first month of summer. That’s the lofty status most of us primarily associate with June, despite the shadowy abstract authority that somehow imbues these particular 30 days with a slew of other significances.

For example, June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual Pride Month.  More commonly referred to by the shorthand LGBTQIA, this ever-expanding initialism currently clocks in at nearly 27 percent of the entire alphabet.

Or, following President Obama’s 2009 update of the antiquated “Black Music Month” created by President Carter in 1979, June serves as “African-American Music Appreciation Month” — celebrating the legacy of those who “lifted their voices to the heavens through spirituals” amidst the injustice of slavery — while simultaneously offering the perfect backdrop to last week’s institution of Juneteenth as the first new federal holiday in 38 years.

And, coming on the heels of Albany’s deadliest month (there were six shooting homicides in May alone), June is also Gun Violence Awareness Month. Which brings me to an Albany Common Councilman’s call this past January to change Albany’s flag.

Stay with me.

Back in the heady days of a brand spanking new New Year — before the Capitol Siege and an inadvertent Suez blockade, before the spectacles of impeachment and inauguration, before the death of a King (Larry) and a Prince (Phillip), before Kim divorced Kanye and the vaccine finally freed us to expose the bottom third of our faces — Councilman Owusu Anane introduced a resolution to examine whether New York’s capital should continue flying a flag whose original inspiration was adopted by Nazis (who, to put it mildly, ruin everything).

Anane was parroting a cause championed by Adam Aleksic, whose online petition at advocates redesigning Albany’s current city flag, which was first introduced in 1909 as part of Albany’s tricentennial celebration of Henry Hudson’s discovery of the river that — wouldn't you know it — bore his name.

The flag’s design had intended to emulate the so-called “Prince’s Flag” (of Prince William of Orange fame) flown by the Dutch East India Company for which Hudson sailed in 1609. With an eye towards history, Albany adopted the horizontal orange-white-blue tricolor, replacing the Dutch East India Company’s logo with the city’s own coat of arms.

And that might not have been problematic if Albany’s coat of arms — adopted in 1789 — didn’t look as though it’d been designed by a xenophobic third-grader using clip art from Microsoft Windows 95. 

“Vexillologists (flag experts) have five rules of good design,” Aleksic wrote in a letter to the Times Union late last year. “A flag should be simple, use no more than three basic colors, contain no lettering or seals, have meaningful symbolism, and be distinctive from other flags.” Albany’s flag fails on all counts.

To his credit, Aleksic accompanied his criticism of Albany’s flag with a proposed design for a new one, and urged Albanites to “make a bold change and choose to promote unity and commonality instead of this unknown, intolerant eyesore.” (To his further credit, he used the word “eyesore,” which now grants me a not-to-be-missed opportunity to declare that Evan Blum should be ashamed of his cynical abuse of the legal process to forestall action on the Central Warehouse.)

Even absent the coat of arms squarely centered on Albany’s flag, the tricolor Prince’s Flag has the awkward distinction of having been: the colors of the slave-trading Dutch East India Company; a backdrop for the Dutch Nazi Party in the 1930s; the base flag design for South Africa’s 20th-Century apartheid era government; and the current pattern of choice for worldwide white supremacists. Whoops. Where’s that cartoon-style “sweaty collar-pull” emoji when you need it?

When you add that coat of arms back in, things get downright uncomfortable. That’s why Aleksic and Anane aren’t alone in their distaste for the centerpiece design of Albany’s seal. Indeed, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan has already stopped using Albany’s seal on official letters and documents unless legally required to.

What force of law might so compel her? How ’bout the fact that the seal’s coat of arms design is enshrined in § 15-1 of Albany’s city charter, which rather embarrassingly describes the dude on the right as “an American Indian, savage proper.” Gulp; collar-pull.

No wonder Aleksic calls Albany’s flag “a racist, poorly designed symbol that isn’t instilling pride in our residents.” And, while it’s perhaps unreasonable to expect every quarter-millennium-old art project to age flawlessly, it’s also unreasonable to go another 250 years before taking action. I mean, this isn’t the Albany Central Warehouse, am I right? (Ba-ZINGA!)

Whereas tackling the design of Albany’s coat of arms may be more legally daunting, replacing Albany’s flag needn’t be. I already mentioned Aleksic’s draft flag design, which you can see on It’s snazzy, simple, and sleek — exactly how’d you describe Albany if you spent three straight hours drinking-with-a-purpose at Fort Orange Brewing down on North Pearl Street.

Why the gratuitously-contrived commercial endorsement? Because Fort Orange Brewing’s namesake antecedent offers inspiration for a new Albany flag that might even be superior to Aleksic’s proposal.

In 1624 — exactly 40 years before it was renamed Fort Albany — Fort Orange emerged in the midst of Mohican territory as New Netherland’s first permanent Dutch settlement. It was named in honor of the Dutch House of Orange-Nassau, from which Prince William of Orange had emerged just a few decades prior to kick-start the Dutch revolt against the Spanish.

And when the English took control of the fort in 1664, they inherited a simple concept for that someday capital city’s future flag — unforgivingly obvious, right there in the name.

Because what if Albany’s flag were just — orange?

That’s outrageous!” you scream, since change is scary and it’s fun to be loud.

Think about it. The simplicity of solid orange would make our flag uniquely defining; Google reveals no other national, provincial, territorial, state, municipal, or organizational flag composed of a single solid orange.

Lock him up! Lock him up! Lock him up!” you chant, increasingly confused as to why.

Well, just hold on a second. Think about my proposal in the context of June.

There is one cause, one commemoration, which is inextricably linked with orange: National Gun Violence Awareness, for which orange is the official color.

Among other less imperative distinctions, June is Gun Violence Awareness Month, and it just so happens that right now, “Cap City” is grappling with a second year of unprecedented lethality. Cap City also finds itself in need of a new flag.

Gun deaths in 2021 are already on track to beat the record set last year, during which 129 people were shot — 17 of whom were killed — in one of Albany’s most lethal years on record. (And, in a tangentially eerie report linking my current whereabouts to life back home, the Times Union also reported last week that a handgun used in four Albany shootings from 2017 to 2018 had actually been stolen from Fort Bragg, North Carolina.)

So let’s acknowledge the synergistic trends intersecting at this particular point in time and space. Can the cause of reducing gun violence spur a long overdue replacement of city icons, and vice versa? Can we eliminate the ancient indignities depicted on our guidon while working to spare mothers the devastation of needlessly burying children caught in the crossfire?

National Gun Violence Awareness Month does not mean that June is open season for mass confiscation of personally owned firearms. And celebration of LGBTQIA communities or African-American music doesn’t mean that June is officially the month where we set out in search of state symbols to skewer.

But, like, come on; the seal of Albany features a Dutch farmer, a Mohican warrior, a beaver, and a boat.  Can’t these concepts almost be better represented by the color orange, which harkens back to those courageous New World adventurers — instilled with the revolutionary spirit of William of Orange — who constructed a foothold in the heartland of the proud Mohican confederacy?

And, like, do we need a tricolor flag, when a solid orange one would symbolically align Albany’s identity with our life-or-death struggle to eradicate the horrendous gun violence plaguing streets in the heart of state government?

These are the questions. And sometimes the answers are right in front of you. Other times they’re on the label of the locally-branded beer you’ve been drinking, which you notice for the first time only after your third hour at a bar on June’s summer solstice. But regardless of how you arrive at those answers, orange you glad I didn’t say “Central Warehouse?”

Captain Jesse Sommer is an active duty Army paratrooper and lifelong resident of Albany County. He welcomes your thoughts at