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Renewed push to adopt ‘People’s Flag’ as official flag of Milwaukee

A Milwaukee alder has introduced a new resolution to start the process of naming 'Sunrise Over the Lake' official city flag

A “Sunrise over the Lake” flag can be seen here in Milwaukee on Wednesday, July 3, 2024. Evan Casey/WPR

Gregory Harris is a manager at Brew City Brand in Milwaukee, a shop that sells local prints and designs. 

The store’s location inside 3rd Street Market Hall sells koozies, beanies, shirts and other items that feature a simple flag design often seen in the city, dubbed the “People’s Flag of Milwaukee.”

Harris said the shop even sells the flag itself, which he thought was the city’s official flag. The only problem? It’s not — at least not yet.

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A flag from the 1950s is currently Milwaukee’s official design.

“I like the newer one. It just looks newer, it looks brand new. I think it speaks to the youth better,” Harris said. “I don’t even know what the one from the 50s looks like, honestly.”

Gregory Harris is a manager at Brew City Brand in Milwaukee. Evan Casey/WPR

There’s now a renewed push to adopt the “People’s Flag” as the official flag, thanks to Milwaukee Alder Peter Burgelis.  The flag, “Sunrise Over the Lake,” is displayed on front porches and flagpoles across the city.

“You see it flying on people’s front porches probably more often than you see an American flag flying … You see it in every single neighborhood, every single Zip code throughout Milwaukee,” Burgelis said. “It’s absolutely everywhere.” 

Burgelis, who was elected as an alder in April, introduced a resolution last week to start the process to officially adopt the “Sunrise Over the Lake” design as the official city flag.

“Sunrise Over the Lake” designed by Robert Lenz. Photo from People’s Flag of Milwaukee

Created by Milwaukee artist Robert Lenz, the flag won a 2016 design contest. 

“The sun rising over Lake Michigan symbolizes a new day,” the flag’s website says. “The light blue bars in its reflection represent the city’s three rivers (Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic) and three founding towns (Juneau Town, Kilbourn Town and Walker’s Point). Gold represents our brewing history and white represents peace.” 

But after the contest, the design was never officially adopted by city government. Burgelis said he believes it’s already been “organically adopted” by residents. Now, he wants to make it official.

“We have to listen to what the community has done and how they’ve adopted the flag in the meantime,” he said.

Burgelis said he’s talked to a lot of residents who didn’t know the design wasn’t already the official flag.

“So it just reinforces the notion that Milwaukee just needs to catch up and get with it, adopt this and move on,” Burgelis said. 

The current city of Milwaukee flag design. Photo provided by City of Milwaukee

The current official design was adopted by the Milwaukee Common Council in the 1950s. 

“The bright blue flag features random imagery including a Native American headdress and newly opened County Stadium, and has been widely panned for decades,” Burgelis said in a statement. 

Under the resolution, there will be a “community outreach process.” Burgelis said he plans to go to every aldermanic district to discuss the design with residents.

He’s not sure yet what Common Council subcommittee will discuss the resolution, but he hopes for the flag to be officially adopted by the Milwaukee Common Council before the city’s next birthday on Jan. 31.

A spokesperson for Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson said the mayor had no comment on the proposal.

But Milwaukee Alder Scott Spiker said he believes the council has more important things to focus on.

“The City outside of City Hall has adopted this flag unofficially years ago,” Spiker wrote in an email.

“The city has moved on; it’s time that we do, too,” he said.