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The Red and Black Star

Photo: / AFSC

First use of the star

The eight-pointed red and black star was adopted by the AFSC on Nov. 13, 1917, as its symbol. The star was first worn by British Quakers during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Quaker relief workers at the time wanted an identification to differentiate themselves and their supplies from other groups who were carrying out similar efforts. The star was in use by the London Daily News Fund on its shipments "for the relief of the French peasantry." Until the star was adopted, the Quaker workers had used the British Union Jack as well as the Red Cross flag. This combination caused some confusion among the Prussian soldiers and made it easy for French civilians to mistake the Quakers for Red Cross workers. Neither group desired this confusion of identity.

The decision to use the star symbol of the Daily News was made with the newspaper's approval. This enabled Quaker relief supplies to be given the same reduction of duty fees and ease of passage by customs authorities as those shipments made by the Daily News.

Origin of the star symbol

It is not known who originally designed the star, although several stories have been told to explain the source. The most common story--with no apparent basis in fact--is that Quakers helped the French city of Nancy during the Franco-Prussian War, and authorities there asked the Quakers to use the symbol of their city as a token of appreciation for the help they had received.

The star is not unique to the American Friends Service Committee; it is used by other Quaker groups as their symbol. There are variations in the design of the star, but most spring from shared Quaker roots and represent a common commitment to service and the spirit in which it is provided.

—Written by Jack Sutters, former AFSC archivist

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