“Every Race Has a Flag but the Coon” was a 1900 coon songwritten by Will A. Heelan and J. Fred Helf that was popular in the U.S. and Britain. The song followed the previous success of “All Coons Look Alike to Me”, written in 1896 by Ernest Hogan. H.L. Mencken cites it as being one of the three coon songs which “firmly established the term coon in the American vocabulary”. The song was promoted as one of the greatest musical hits of the day by A.M. Rothschild and Company in 1901. New York’s Siegel Cooper Company referred to it as one of the “hits of the day” in April a year later. The next month it was sung during “Music on the Piers” in New York, being the first song played at the Metropolitan Avenue pier. In his book The Movies That Changed Us: Reflections on the Screen, Nick Clooney refers to the song as part of the “hit parade” of popular music one could use to measure the temper of the times when The Birth of a Nationpremiered in 1915. The tune is repeatedly referred to in the literature as having the ability to incite violence merely by its being whistled in the direction of an African American. It was also Marie Dressler’s contribution to the ‘coon’ genre. Lottie Gilson,Williams and Walker, Frances Curran, Hodges and Launchmere, Libby and Bennett, Zoa Matthews, Johnnie Carroll, Clarice Vance, Gerie Gilson, Joe Bonnell, The Eldridges and “100 other artists” sung the song with “overwhelming success” according to its sheet music.
The song motivated the creation of the Pan-African flag in 1920 by the members of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. In a 1921 report appearing in the Africa Times and Orient Review, Marcus Garvey was quoted as saying,
“Show me the race or the nation without a flag, and I will show you a race of people without any pride. Aye! In song and mimicry they have said, “Every race has a flag but the coon.” How true! Aye! But that was said of us four years ago. They can’t say it now….”
The lyrics to “Every Race Has a Flag but the Coon” include the musical meme “four eleven forty four”.
Listen to song below: