In the Middle Ages, the Black Cross on a white background was the design for one of the official flags (the Kroaz Du) of Brittany, a large peninsula in northwest France. The Duke of Brittany, Pierre Mauclerc, made peace with the Church by joining the crusade against the Albigenses and was awarded the Black Cross by Pope Gregory IX in 1236 or 1237. This became the standard of the Breton Army and national flag of Brittany until 1532.
A Black Cross was issued by Adolph Hitler during World War II. The Iron Cross (das Eiserne Kreuz) entered the German military some two hundred years ago, long before Hitler adorned it with a Swastika. Even though it was an egalitarian military decoration, it was awarded for bravery in battle or successful leadership. In other words, for remarkable efforts to support the State.
In contrast to this State-oriented history, the design has been adopted as the emblem of the Anarchist Black Cross, a human rights, anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian and anti-prison movement which admits to tolerating violent action to get its message across. With the burgeoning prison population in the US and the disproportionate number of black inmates, there is a significant number of people who are considered to be incarcerated simply to achieve State social control and political repression. For the same reasons, the group also considers the death penalty to be an instrument of class repression, political constraint, and racial genocide. The Black Cross, therefore, reflects the struggle of coloured people.1
The movement began as a communist group known as the Anarchist Red Cross in Tsarist Russia but changed its name to avoid confusion with the Red Cross. For anarchists, the black colour symbolises dried blood, hunger, misery and death. The interpretation of the cross in their symbol, however, is not so straightforward.
The cross is universally seen as an emblem of Christianity and there are some people who label themselves as Christian anarchists. They have a clear belief that Jesus was an anarchist against the State and that early Christianity was fine, until it was corrupted by the rise of the authoritarian Church. In contrast to most secular anarchists, Christian anarchists tend to be pacifist. Christian anarchists can quote Scriptures2 to support their views - and Church leaders have a similar list of opposing quotations3. Secular anarchists reject religion completely because they consider God to be the ultimate authority.