A Peace of Gold

What do we think about this once-subversive symbol of righteousness now that it's turned 50?


A lot of things recently turned 50. You might recall them.

Madonna – yawn. The Dodgers – thank God they haven’t abandoned Los Angeles like another professional team, which shall remain nameless. The Grammy Awards – the crystal ball simply didn’t see rap and hip-hop coming and staying. Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat book – my personal favorite. The Ebony Fashion Fair Glam Odyssey Fashion Show that was – by the way – glamorous, spectacular, and absolutely fabulous.

Oh and moi – enough said. However, there is another 50-year observance that trumps some of the most celebrated milestones I’ve noted. This one is as insipid as it is indomitable. That golden anniversary is none other than that of the “peace symbol.” Yes, the universal emblem of peace turned 50 this month.

I never understood how the three simple lines enclosed in a circle were symbolic of peace. It always reminded me of a foot of a fowl, well, a chicken to be exact. The symbol’s creator, Gerald Holtom, said the symbol is actually a depiction of himself as a “man in despair,” and he put a circle around the lines to represent the world.

That’s a bit gestalt and a real stretch for me, but ok. I recall a time in our recent history, well at least my history, when the peace symbol was ubiquitously conspicuous during a period when the human struggle for dignity, unity, and egalitarianism held the promise of ameliorating the past, defining the present and shifting the future.

The symbol was a visual marker of solidarity in marches for civil rights, women’s rights, human rights, gay rights and movements to stop wars abroad. Those who marched and protested for peace were often the victims of violence. Some even lost their lives. The peace symbol has had a tumultuous tenure and paradoxical past.

Now it is celebrating a bittersweet birthday, a golden anniversary no less.

I’ve noticed its resurgence of late. A Southern California beach side vendor had a collection of peace symbol jewelry and trinkets in every possible color and shape. I had to pick up a pin or two and a pair of peace symbol hoop earrings reminiscent of those I wore with my favorite dashiki back in the day. I was feeling so cool and not just “with it” but with what matters – peace.

While in Atlanta I saw an assortment of tie-dyed peace symbol T-shirts and baseball caps in an airport boutique. I bought one of each of the pricey items and lamented because they didn’t have the peace symbol headbands made wildly famous by master guitarist Jimi Hendrix. He was the man, unifying symbol of cross culturalism in my mind.