Why Are Flags Half Staff Today? See State Proclamations for Oct. 21

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You may notice that some flags are flying half-staff today, October 21, 2019. Although there are no national proclamations today from President Donald Trump, New Jersey has issued proclamations that will last through October 25. Meanwhile, flags were recently half-staff for Elijah Cummings, and it’s possible that some people who aren’t staying apprised of the dates for these proclamations might keep their flags lowered longer than was asked. Read on for more details.

For the October 22 flag half-staff notices, see Heavy’s story here.

It’s customary to only display the American flag from sunrise to sunset, unless the flag is well illuminated overnight. In those cases, the flag might be displayed 24 hours a day. There are a number of holidays that call for the U.S. flags to be lowered to half-staff every year. In addition, the President of the United States may order a proclamation for the flags to fly half-staff when someone of prominence dies or when there is a national tragedy. State governors may also call for national flags to be flown at half-staff in their state when a present or former government official passes away.

If you’re wondering about the term half-mast vs. half-staff, in the United States half-mast refers to flags being lowered on a ship, while half-staff refers to a pole on a building. However, outside the United States, the more commonly used term is actually half-mast. The terms tend to be used interchangeably in common vernacular.


New Jersey & Other States Will Be Honoring Cummings This Week

New Jersey has half-staff proclamations in place today and tomorrow that will last through October 25. The first, for Monday, October 21, is in honor of Speaker Bill Hamilton. Hamilton served in the New Jersey Senate from 1977 to 1982 and continued to contribute to worthwhile causes throughout his life. Gov. Philip Murphy has proclaimed that U.S. and state flags will be flown half-staff in his honor today. The proclamation reads:

WHEREAS, Speaker Bill Hamilton was born William J. Hamilton, Jr., in New Brunswick in 1932; and

WHEREAS, Speaker Hamilton would live and work for most of his life in Middlesex County; and

WHEREAS, Speaker Hamilton graduated from St. Peter’s High School in 1950 and went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University, a Juris Doctor from Georgetown University Law Center, and a Master’s degree from Monmouth University; and

WHEREAS, Speaker Hamilton served as an aviator on active duty in the United States Navy from 1954 to 1958 and thereafter served with the United States Naval Reserve until he ultimately retired with the rank of Captain; and

WHEREAS, in 1962, U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy appointed Speaker Hamilton as First Assistant United States Attorney in Jacksonville, Florida, and during his five years in that position he prosecuted civil and criminal cases, including a landmark civil rights case; and

WHEREAS, in 1967, Speaker Hamilton returned to his hometown of New Brunswick to establish his own law practice, specializing in municipal law, and eventually served as municipal attorney for Highland Park, South Brunswick, Winfield Park, Carteret, and New Brunswick; and

WHEREAS, Speaker Hamilton was elected to the New Jersey General Assembly in 1972 where he served three terms, becoming assistant majority leader in 1974, majority leader in 1976, and Speaker of the General Assembly in January 1977; and

WHEREAS, in 1977, Speaker Hamilton was elected to the New Jersey Senate where he served with distinction until 1982; and

WHEREAS, during his decade-long legislative career, Speaker Hamilton was a leader in addressing issues such as no-fault insurance, title insurance, pre-trial intervention programs, support for Vietnam War veterans, and tax policies aimed at reducing the property tax burden on residents while ensuring the adequate funding of a thorough and efficient system of public schools; and

WHEREAS, Speaker Hamilton contributed greatly to many worthwhile causes during his years as a public servant and after his retirement from government service, including as a member of the board of trustees for Crossroads Theatre Company, St. Peter’s Medical Center, Court Appointed Special Advocates of Middlesex County, and the Irish Repertory Theatre, New York City; and

WHEREAS, Speaker Hamilton’s presence will be sorely missed by his family, including his four children and many grandchildren, his countless friends, his colleagues, and by the people of New Jersey whom he served so well; and

WHEREAS, it is with great sorrow that we mourn the passing of Speaker Hamilton, and extend our deepest sympathy to his family, friends, and colleagues; and

WHEREAS, it is appropriate to honor the exemplary character, outstanding achievements, and cherished memory of Speaker Hamilton, and to mark his passing;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, PHILIP D. MURPHY, Governor of the State of New Jersey, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and by the Statutes of this State, do hereby ORDER and DIRECT:

1. The flag of the United States of America and the flag of New Jersey shall be flown at half-staff at all State departments, offices, agencies, and instrumentalities during appropriate hours on Monday, October 21, 2019, in recognition and mourning of a dedicated and tireless public servant, Speaker Bill Hamilton.

2. This Order shall take effect immediately.

The Governor of New Jersey has also ordered that flags will fly at half-staff October 22-25 in honor of Rep. Elijah Cummings. The national proclamation has ended, but New Jersey will honor Cummings a little longer, from sunrise October 22 through sunset on October 25.

The full proclamation reads:

WHEREAS, United States Representative Elijah Eugene Cummings was born a son of sharecroppers on January 18, 1951, in Baltimore, Maryland, and received his high school diploma from Baltimore City College in 1969; and

WHEREAS, Representative Cummings graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Howard University, where he was student government president, with a degree in political science; and

WHEREAS, Representative Cummings graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1976 and practiced law for nearly 20 years; and

WHEREAS, Representative Cummings was elected to the House of Delegates in the Maryland General Assembly in 1982 and served for 13 years, during which time he became the youngest chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland and the first African-American in Maryland history to be named speaker pro tempore; and

WHEREAS, Representative Cummings was elected to the United States House of Representatives in a special election in 1996 to represent Maryland’s 7th Congressional District and was re-elected 11 times, serving for over 23 years; and

WHEREAS, Representative Cummings served as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus from 2003 to 2005; and

WHEREAS, Representative Cummings served as the ranking member of the powerful House Oversight and Reform Committee from 2011 to 2019; and

WHEREAS, Representative Cummings served as Chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee from January 2019 until his passing and, in that capacity, worked fairly and effectively to hold the executive branch accountable for its policies and practices; and

WHEREAS, Representative Cummings advanced many important causes during his tenure in Congress, including civil rights, stricter gun safety laws, help for those suffering from drug addiction, and increased funding for public education and Head Start programming; and

WHEREAS, Representative Cummings was a strong advocate for Baltimore and worked to heal the city after the uprisings following the death of Freddie Gray, a young Black man who died in police custody; and

WHEREAS, Representative Cummings was a beloved husband, father, and brother, whose presence will be missed by his family, his friends, his colleagues, the people of Maryland, and the nation whom he served so well; and

WHEREAS, it is with immense sadness that we mourn Representative Cummings’s passing, and extend our deepest sympathy to his family, friends, and colleagues; and

WHEREAS, it is appropriate to honor the exemplary character, outstanding achievements, and cherished memory of Representative Cummings, and to mark his passing;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, PHILIP D. MURPHY, Governor of the State of New Jersey, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and by the Statutes of this State, do hereby ORDER and DIRECT:

1. The flag of the United States of America and the flag of New Jersey shall be flown at half-staff at all State departments, offices, agencies, and instrumentalities during appropriate hours from Tuesday, October 22, 2019, to Friday, October 25, 2019, in recognition and mourning of a tireless public servant, United States Representative Elijah E. Cummings.

2. This Order shall take effect immediately.

In Maryland, the U.S. flag flew half-staff through October 18 and Maryland’s flag is flying half-staff through the day of Cummings’ internment on Saturday, October 25. Gov. Larry Hogan’s proclamation for Maryland reads as follows:

This is to advise that Governor Larry Hogan ordered the United States Flag lowered to half-staff effective immediately until sunset, tomorrow, Friday, October 18, 2019. Title 4 of the United States Code states that the United States Flag shall be flown at half-staff on the day of death and the following day for a member of Congress. Furthermore, Governor Larry Hogan ordered the Maryland State Flag lowered to half-staff effective immediately until sunset on the day of interment (not yet known).

These actions are in honor of United States Congressman Elijah Cummings who was a fierce advocate for civil rights and for Maryland for more than three decades. Congressman Cummings leaves behind an incredible legacy of fighting for Baltimore City and working to improve people’s lives. He was a passionate and dedicated public servant whose countless contributions made our state and our country better. Congressman Cummings passed away on this morning, Thursday, October 17, 2019.”

Other states may also follow suit and issue their own proclamations for Cummings in the coming days.

In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered that U.S. and Michigan flags be flown at half staff on October 18, October 19, and until former Gov. William Miliken is buried, WWMT reported.

On October 27, state flags will fly half-staff in Pennsylvania in memory of the people killed in the Tree of Life synagogue shooting.

A Presidential Proclamation declared that flags would fly half-staff nationally for Cummings from October 17 through sunset October 18.

READ NEXT: How & When Will a Replacement for Rep. Elijah Cummings Be Chosen?


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