On May 1, 45 years ago, a former Republican governor (Elmer L. Andersen) and a Democratic Minneapolis mayor (Arthur Naftalin) joined 26 metro-area mayors in raising the United Nations flag. It was bold statement that we, as a community, intended to engage the whole world in our work and cultural life.

Sadly, in 2012, the U.N. flag was quietly removed by order of the Hennepin County Board over concerns that it violated a U.S. flag code.

I was there when the flag was unfurled in 1968. I believe that it had been flying continuously before the board’s action last year.

I think we should again find a niche for the U.N. flag in our public square.

Certainly we should cherish our Stars and Stripes and honor all who have worked to build our beloved homeland. No action should compromise this paramount civic reverence.

But the U.N. flag can be a useful reminder that we are a country built by immigrants. It would be cumbersome to place flags for all of our ancestors’ homelands. However, the one United Nations flag reminds us that our heritage is truly worldwide.

I am perplexed when some people say that the U.N. flag may be offensive to our veterans. I was in the Marine Corps, and I help my younger brother, who is a disabled Marine and Vietnam vet. Once a month, we visit the Veterans Affairs hospital for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder or ailments related to Agent Orange. Visit the VA hospital any weekday, and you may conclude that we need fewer wars. In the words of Minnesotan Nobel Peace Prize winner Frank Kellogg: “Eliminating war should be part of every citizen’s agenda.”

For me, the U.N. flag reminds us that we are part of the global human family. Practical issues such as public health, drug trafficking, terrorism and climate change do not have borders. Although the world’s population is vast and diverse, we share common individual rights.

There are many reasons to display the U.N. banner alongside our own: political, economic and spiritual. On a hope-filled day in 1968, I heard Andersen address a diverse group of political, business, religious and community leaders with these words:

“I am proud to live where public authorities are courageously speaking out on behalf of an equal concern for all men everywhere and in the support of the concept of world citizenship in a world community of nations, living in peace under law.”

Today I am asking Hennepin County commissioners to act with courage, reverse their earlier decision and find an appropriate manner to display the U.N. flag in a public setting to remind the public of the global dimension of our citizenship.


James W. Nelson is a retired finance professional in Minneapolis and a volunteer with Amnesty International.