What Does a Solid Black Flag Mean?

A solid black flag has been used historically to signify anarchy and piracy. In sports, it generally is a sign that a competitor has been eliminated, often due to rule-breaking.

Solid Black Flag Meaning

Historical uses of a Solid Black Flag

flag of lower saxony

Black flags seem like they have plenty to say, but it depends mainly on the context. Here are some historical examples:

  • Revolutionary Insignia: The Black Banner was used by Abu Muslim Al-Khurasani in 747 to signify the oppression and inequality of the Umayyads over the Abbasids. His revolts soon led to the Abbasid Revolution, which toppled Umayyad rule.
  • Militia Insignia: Pirates also used black flags to identify themselves. In addition, Italy’s National Fascist Party, the Afghans, and the Catalan army in the War of the Spanish Succession all used black flags as their insignias.
  • During the Bubonic Plague:Another way people used black flags in the past was during the Bubonic Plague during medieval times. Cities used to fly solid black flags to signal that most of their residents had contracted the deadly disease.
  • For Funerals:In some cultures, a black flag is associated with funerals. It’s used to symbolize mourning the passing of loved ones. Some people even fly it for 40 days after a family member has passed away.

Take a look at some other meanings behind the all-black flag and what they symbolize.

Most Common Uses of Black Flags Today

1. On Military Fatigues

aboriginal australia flag

Men and women in the military are always looking for ways to show respect for their country. At the same time, they don’t want to draw attention to themselves with all the bright red, white, and blue colors of the flag.

So, they opt to sew on an all-black US flag on their uniform. It’s the perfect compromise between honoring their country without all the flashy colors.

Related Article: American Flag with a Green Stripe Meaning

2. For Anarchists

Since the 1880s, members of the Anarchists group have been hailed as direct descendants of the French socialist and philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.

Proudhon was the first person ever actually to call himself an ‘anarchist.’ So, to honor him and his quote, “Anarchy is Order without Power,” modern-day Anarchists sometimes add a white ‘A’ or ‘O’ to the flag.

Yet, they mostly just leave it a solid black as their way of negating all flags and nations.

3. To Signal the Killing of Prisoners in Combat

Military forces will sometimes raise a solid black flag. This usually means that the enemy combatants will be executed on the spot rather than be taken prisoner.

In instances like this, that black flag becomes the exact opposite of what a white flag would represent, which is surrender.

Related Article: American Flag with a Yellow Stripe Meaning

4. In Sport Competitions

flag of uganda

In car racing, a black flag is used to signal that a driver has been eliminated from the race. It sometimes indicates that a certain driver has been issued a penalty.

There are three main types of penalties in a car race. It can be in the form of either a penalty stop, a time penalty, or a drive-through penalty.

Black flags are also used in sail racing. When race officials display a black flag along with the preparatory signal, it means that a boat has crossed over the starting line seconds before sounding the starting signal.

If this happens, the boat is immediately disqualified from the race without a chance at a hearing.

Another sport that uses black flags is soccer as a warning. When one player kicks another player or picks up the ball with their hands, the referee will hold up a black flag. This alerts the rest of the players that an offense or infraction has been committed somewhere on the field.

On a more serious note, flying a black flag on the beach alerts swimmers, divers, and surfers to stay out! It usually indicates dangerous sea conditions, like strong winds, high waves, and currents.

Various Black Flag Color Schemes

Some flags feature black as one of their main colors. Take a look.

1. Black and Red Flags

flag of belgium

A red and black flag is exciting and edgy. Yet, it’s known to stand for only one thing: punk rock music.

A popular US punk rock music band ‘Bad Religion’ often uses black and red flags in their concerts and on their clothes. Even the cover on their latest album, The Empire Strikes First, shows a red and black US flag.

The design of this flag swaps out the red and blue on the traditional flag with black. Also, the white stripes are swapped out with a brighter shade of red than typically used on the conventional American national flag. The stripe pattern always starts and ends with a dark stripe.

2. Black and Gray Flags

In 2015, black and gray flags were flown in Washington, D.C., in honor of the 20th anniversary of the ‘Million Man March.’ The march was held in 1995 on the 16th of October around the National Mall.

The event was organized and coordinated mainly by Louis Farrakhan, a prominent black activist, and religious leader. At its core, this march was a way of promoting the values and beliefs of African American families. It also helped bring forth a sense of integrity, unity, and equality.

The estimated number of marchers, protestors, and participants who showed up ranged from 400,000 to over a million people, hence the name. To this day, this historic event ranks as one of the largest gatherings ever to take place in US history.

3. Black, Green, and Orange Flags

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Have you ever seen these complementary colors together on a flag in place of the traditional red, white, and blue? If you have, it means you’re in the presence of vintage.

These were the original flags sold by Paramount in the 1970s and 80s. The designer picked out the colors from the painting by Jasper Johns called ‘Flags (Moratorium)’ created to commemorate the Moratorium Marches of 1969 to end the war in Vietnam.


Now, you can impress your friends when they ask, “What does a solid black flag mean?” It’s pretty ironic that one color can represent so many different things. Yet, that’s the power of color symbolism, especially one as dominant as black.