State Senator, Winchester Democrat
Have you ever seen the Massachusetts state flag flapping in the breeze? Many people will no doubt recognize the white field, blue crest, and gold figure, but surprisingly few stop to consider the meaning of this image — our state seal — which we display as the official emblem of our Commonwealth.
The current state seal was adopted in 1898. The Native American figure is a composite of features primarily based on a portrait of a Chippewa Native American chief not from Massachusetts but Montana and the Dakotas. Above his head is an arm holding a colonial-era broadsword believed to be the sword of Myles Standish, a Plymouth Colony military commander known in part for killing Native Americans. The Native American holds a downward pointed arrow that could be interpreted as signifying the pacification of the native population.
This imagery on our state seal has long been viewed by Native Americans and others as racist, symbolizing white supremacy and ethnic cleansing perpetrated against the indigenous peoples of this region. Based on research by my office, Massachusetts and Mississippi are the only two states with flags that contain what can be interpreted as explicitly racist imagery (the Mississippi flag contains the Confederate battle flag).
I believe it is high time we replaced the flag. As a first step, I’ve joined with state Senator Jo Comerford and state representatives Nika Elugardo and Lindsay Sabadosa in filing legislation to establish a special commission to examine the state seal and motto of the Commonwealth to ensure they reflect and embody our commitment to peace, justice, liberty, and equality for all.
Composed of people with relevant historical and cultural expertise — including Native Americans — the commission would be asked to recommend a revised or new design for the state seal for consideration by the Legislature. State law requires the flag to display the seal, so any new seal would also mean a new flag. The process would be inclusive and thoughtful, hopefully fostering a healthy dialogue, particularly in our schools, about our state’s history.
Our collective symbols of identity matter, and if they marginalize some of our fellow residents and perpetuate harmful stereotypes, they should be replaced.
Chairman of the Weymouth Republican Town Committee
History happened. We must look at it in the context of the times in which it happened not try to bend it to the wishes of today.
Now comes the continuing effort to change not only the world, but history to conform to the whims, views, and ideologies of today. This latest effort would change the Massachusetts’ state seal and flag because they may be offensive to some people. The seal has a blue shield with a Native American (Massasoit) standing with a bow in his right hand and an arrow in his left. Below the shield is a ribbon with the state motto, “Ense Petit Placidam, Sub Libertate Quietem,” loosely translated from Latin, “By the Sword We Seek Peace, But Peace Only Under Liberty.” Above the shield is a bent arm holding a sword blade up. The sword is said to be that of Myles Standish, which could be interpreted as a commitment to fight rather than live under tyranny.
Apparently, the issue is that having Standish’s arm with the sword and the motto are offensive in that Standish is viewed as having treacherously murdered Native Americans, including Pecksuot. It is said that the arm represents the death of native people.
The reality is that the historical record shows that Pecksuot and Wituwamat were the leaders of a group of warriors looking to wipe out the settlements of Wessagussett and Plymouth, a story detailed in Nathaniel Philbrick’s book, “Mayflower.” One of the Native American chiefs (Massasoit) warned the Plymouth settlement of the plans and urged the settlers there to kill the planners of the attack before they initiated the assaults. It is important to note that by 1623 the entire population of the combined English colonies in Massachusetts was less than 200 men, women, and children. Without the actions of Myles Standish and the small group who killed Pecksuot, Wituwamat, and their fellow warriors, it is almost a given that both the Wessagussett and Plymouth settlements would have been wiped out.
The Massachusetts state seal and the flag to which it is affixed recognize both sides of our Commonwealth’s birth. Leave them as they stand.
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As told to Globe Correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.