The Bellamy Salute to Old Glory

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by Sharon M. Kennedy

In 1892, Francis Bellamy wrote the “Pledge of Allegiance.” It wasn’t long thereafter that Daniel Ford, owner of a children’s magazine called The Youth’s Companion, asked an editor to create a physical movement to accompany the pledge. I’ll skip all the ins-and-outs and simply say the movement resulted in how Old Glory was to be addressed. James Upham, Ford’s nephew, demonstrated the hand posture he thought appropriate for such a patriotic pledge. Here’s a quote from Upham: “At the words, ‘to my flag,’ the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward toward the flag and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation.”

Bellamy was pleased with the stance that became known as the “Bellamy Salute.” One year after the bombing of Pearl Harbor the salute was changed to placing the right hand over the heart. Although it took Congress 50 years to make the change, the reason should be obvious – World War II.

Bellamy salutes detail in 1917 from Saluting the Flag

If folks take time and do a little poking around the information highway, aka, the Internet, they’ll find pictures of children looking at the flag in their classroom. Their right hand will be extended towards the flag as they pledge their loyalty to it. It’s also easy to find adults, some in military uniforms, taking the same stance. Such photos are unsettling to say the least. However, nobody knew there would be a madman called Hitler whose people would mimic the salute with one minor exception. Right hands would be outstretched but not with the palm facing upward.

Most of us learned the “pledge” as youngsters in grade school. We faced the flag and repeated what our teacher said. At seven, we had no idea what the words meant and even less interest. It was just a tradition that began our academic day. No one asked why we were standing and taking an oath to a piece of fabric. We simply obeyed our teacher.

That’s how things were in the old days. Imagine my surprise when decades later I was a substitute teacher and asked elementary students to stand, face the flag and recite the pledge. Some did, but others had no idea what I was talking about. The one-sentence drilled into my head in 1953 was as foreign to most of the kids as a shopping trip to China.

A few brave teachers had taught students that sentence, but in the majority of classrooms where I substituted, allegiance to Old Glory had been forgotten. I don’t know when that happened. Perhaps some students were upset about pledging loyalty to the Stars and Stripes and their parents complained to the school board. Their anger might have resulted from the words “under God” inserted into the pledge in 1954 by Pres. Eisenhower or it might have happened much earlier.

All it takes is one disgruntled person to change things. Long before Madalyn Murray O’Hair stirred the “prayer in school pot” hackles were raised about saluting our flag. Then when Ike proposed adding “God” to the mix, lawsuits flourished like dandelions. There was the customary yakking about separation of church and state, infringement upon the rights of atheists and other non-Christian religions and violation of students’ rights when they were forced to pledge allegiance to their country and its symbol of freedom and liberty.

You probably never heard of the Bellamy Salute but however you address our flag, wish her well. She’s been through a lot and still keeps waving.

Morgan Hill School (circa 1930)

Christian Herald (1913)

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