Quick — what’s on the state flag of Massachusetts?
If you’re having trouble conjuring the image of our state seal and motto, you’re not alone. On a recent afternoon in Downtown Crossing, only two out of about 15 people surveyed could describe what the state seal was, and no one knew what the state motto was. Both are depicted on our state flag, which you may have seen in schools, government buildings, or parades.
The current seal shows a Native American man standing before a blue shield, a bow in one hand and a downward pointing arrow in the other; above him is a broadsword brandished by an upraised arm. The Latin motto translates to “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty.”
But that could change soon. Activists have been fighting for roughly 40 years to rethink the image, which many find offensive and degrading to Indigenous people. And in May, a special commission voted unanimously to recommend replacing the state’s seal and motto — and, by extension, the state flag.
But sharp divisions still exist among the 19-member Special Commission on the Official Seal and Motto of the Commonwealth. One Indigenous member of the commission said he immediately regretted his vote and worries that an important piece of Native American history will be lost.
The commission has requested to have until March 31, 2023 to develop suggestions for the new seal and motto.
Meanwhile, at Downtown Crossing, we asked some passersby what they thought should be depicted in the state seal. Respondents suggested everything from a picture of Boston Harbor to a Thanksgiving-themed flag. Neicy Mendes, 13, said she thinks it should include a pigeon — “I feel like you see them a lot” — while Josephine Phillip, 74, suggested something like the mayflower, the Massachusetts state flower. Bruce Paolozz, 52, thought the state flag should honor Massachusetts education. “This is like the heart of education for America,” he said, “so I think a book is more appropriate.”
Now we’re asking readers: What do you think the state seal and flag should look like? Should it include Native American representation? If so, should it be a historical figure? Or should the design involve natural elements such as the state tree (the American Elm) or state bird (the black-capped chickadee)?
Let us know by filling out the survey below, and if you have a design idea, upload it, or send us a sketch at email@example.com. (We may reach out for a future article.)