No. 123 — 1 April 2005
The Flag Research Center often receives questions concerning proper protocol in regard to mourning.
In Western tradition black has always been considered the proper color to symbolize mourning. Occasionally white and/or purple have been associated with black, but they are neither standard nor recommended. Bunting, pull-downs, drapery, ribbons, etc.of black are appropriate. Plain black flags are not recommended since they have also been used as a symbol of anarchism.
Flags traditionally fly at half-staff as a symbol of mourning, but there are circumstances where this is inappropriate. When the length of a flag staff, the permanent attachment of a flag to a staff, or the existence of obstructions such as shrubbery or a balcony make it difficult to half staff, attaching black ribbons above a flag is an alternate mode of expressing mourning. A ribbon twice the flag length and no more than 10% the flag width should be tied in a bow above the flag and below the finial, such that the two resulting streamers correspond roughly to the flag length (see image below).
Public buildings of all kinds should express mourning only by the authority of appropriate authorities. For example, in the case of the death of the pope, mourning on public buildings in the United States (half-staffing, draping in black) should be undertaken only if the President issues an executive order authorizing it. The Flag Research Center will notify its paid clientele of such an eventuality.