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Black Ribbon Streamers for Mourning

It’s not mentioned in the federal flag code, but by tradition if you have a flagpole that is too short for the flag to be lowered to half-staff (such as a home flag mounted diagonally off the porch or window facing) then it is respectful to signify honor and mourning by flying a black streamer from the top of the flag pole. It should not be attached to the flag, but to the pole.

Here is an easy way to make a streamer. Use a length of ribbon that is twice as long as of the flag, and the same width as one of the stripes. Take an elastic hair band (like you’d use for a pony tail), and knot the ribbon around the hair band so that it looks neat and tidy. Trim the ends to the same length, then dress them by notching in swallow-tails or by cutting them on an angle. Twist the hair band around the top of the flag pole, adjust until it hangs freely and looks nice.

For flags mounted on a wall or hanging by the header attached to a pole, you can place streamers at the top corners, but on the wall or pole, not to the flag itself.

A caveat: Decorating ribbon is less expensive, but will fade on your flag if it gets wet. Dressmaker’s ribbon (for use on clothing) is more expensive but will last longer and is colorfast.

11 thoughts on “Black Ribbon Streamers for Mourning

  1. […] you fly your flag from a fixed staff, this article explains how to use a black ribbon to comply with this […]

  2. […] such as mounted on the front of a house, can use black streamers to signify honor and mourning. This article that explains how. The ribbons are removed at noon, as other U.S. flags are raised to […]

  3. […] at half-staff because the pole is too short, it is permissible to signify honor and mourning with a black ribbon streamer affixed to the flag […]

  4. […] owners with flags that are not easily half-staffed may attach a black ribbon to the flag pole, as a sign of remembrance and mourning. Please remember to remove it at […]

  5. […] position. There isn’t anything specified in the flag code, but the tradition is to fly a black mourning streamer from the top of the flag pole. I had never heard of these streamers before this year, when the […]

  6. Black ribbons were placed in this manner on Canadian flags in the foyer at the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa on August 24, 2011 for the funeral of Opposition Leader Jack Layton. As far as I know this is the first time this has been done in Canada and as with your flag code, it’s not mentioned in the Canadian Heritage Flag web site. Here’s a link with a photo which may or may not last.

    1. Lorraine, thank you for writing. The photo link you provided did not work, but I used a search engine and found many newspapers links with photos.

      I once spent a whole day trying to find out if Canada had a written flag code similar to the United States, and finally found the Canadian Heritage website. I think using the black ribbons on the short flagpoles looks very dignified. I am tempted to search back for funeral photos of other Canadian dignitaries to see if there are other instances of black ribbons being used.

      Generally, I am quite emphatic in following the flag code, but I think the use of black ribbons on static flagpoles makes a lot of sense and is historically appropriate, if not specifically mentioned. Perhaps in the future, it will be addressed in the flag code.

      Thank you again, Lorraine.

  7. Is it appropriate to fly a half staff streamer on an American Flag in a funeral escort? The flag is mounted on a motorcycle.

    1. Hi Nick. Thank you for writing. The Flag Code does not mention the protocol for flying a flag on a motorcycle, although we can extrapolate from the instructions for automobiles. But flying a flag on the right front fender of a motorcycle would be dangerous for everyone, so flags are generally flown on the rear fender. I am uncomfortable by this practice because it puts the flag in drag position (in the exhaust fumes and dirt kicked up by the rear wheel) and my flag doesn’t ride drag. However, there is no other safe place for a flag to be placed on a motorcycle, so that ends the discussion.

      The Flag Code does not address the usage of black ribbon streamers at all, so we are on our own to determine what is appropriate usage within the context of historic tradition. Since a flag on a motorcycle cannot reasonably be half-staffed, no breach of etiquette exists; I would not be offended, and I am a stickler for for etiquette and protocol. Therefor, I believe using a black ribbon on the flag staff seems quite appropriate for a funeral escort. It clearly identifies the bike and rider as an honorable member of the funeral procession, and it makes the bike and rider more visible to other traffic, which is always good.

      Best wishes,
      Deborah Hendrick

      1. Thanks for the speedy reply Deborah. I could find no reference to the streamer in this application either. That’s why I threw it out here.
        The flags are mounted on a rear rack and the rods are six feet long (American Flag), all others are 3″ shorter. I sometimes fly three in parades (state, Pow/Mia, usually). They are out of harms way.
        I too am pretty anal about flag display.
        I do feel the American flag should be flown alone and in the center position if a streamer is attached.
        I will tell the family I could find no problem and I wiill attach a streamer for their escort.
        Thanks again for your attention,

        1. You’re welcome, Nick.

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