Easthampton council: Changing state flag, motto is long overdue

  • The Massachusetts state flag flies in front of Boston City Hall. Easthampton’s City Council last week approved a resolution that supports changing the state flag and seal of Massachusetts. At the state level, the Legislature has created a 19-member special commission study the seal and motto of Massachusetts. AP

Staff Writer
Published: 9/19/2022 8:48:15 PM

EASTHAMPTON — When Ann Darling looks upon the white, blue and gold state flag of Massachusetts flying from flagpoles throughout the commonwealth, she’s ashamed.

The Easthampton resident, who describes herself as a descendant of the early inhabitants of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, recently told members of the City Council that she doesn’t feel that the flag, motto and seal represent what the state is all about.

The original Massachusetts Bay Colony seal from 1629 depicted an Indigenous person wearing a loincloth of leaves and calling out: “Come over and help us.”

From that point to 1780, the seal went through several iterations, some of which were engraved by Paul Revere.

The version that’s used today was formally adopted by the Legislature in 1898 and created by American illustrator Edmund Garrett. It features a Native American holding a bow in his right hand and a downward-facing arrow in his left hand. Beneath him are the Latin words: “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty.” Above him is the disembodied arm of a white man holding a sword.

“Times have changed,” Darling said at the council’s Sept. 7 meeting.

Members of the council agreed, unanimously approving a resolution that supports changing the state flag and seal of Massachusetts. At the state level, the Legislature has created a 19-member special commission to recommend changes to the seal and motto of Massachusetts. State Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, led the legislative effort to create the commission.

“For me, being Puerto Rican, this is really important. Symbols are really important, for me,” Council President Homar Gomez said at the meeting, pulling up the sleeve of his shirt to reveal a symbol tattooed on his wrist. “You can see, guys, I have one. If you are Puerto Rican, you will know that we came from the Taínos. … Anywhere we see symbols from the Taínos, we know you are Puerto Rican. Symbols mean a lot.”

Council Vice President Salem Derby, who stated that he is the only member on the council who is a member of the federally-recognized state tribe, Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), said that this acknowledgment was long overdue.

The resolution, co-sponsored by Gomez, Derby and At-Large City Councilor Owen Zaret, recognizes the work being done at the state level to recommend changes for a new state flag, seal and motto.

Zaret acknowledged that the land that everyone was on was that of the Nonotuck, Norwottuck and the Nipmuc, and that adopting the resolution was a service to enact possibly the smallest of reparations where many more are needed in accordance with the work the council has already done in recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

“This is just the smallest thing we could do to support what’s right to change symbolism on our state flag and seal that is from a bygone time that certainly is not representative of my values,” Zaret said.

The Legislature in early January 2021 agreed to create the special commission to recommend changes to the seal and motto of Massachusetts. The commission is also charged with making recommendations for an educational program on the history and meaning of the state flag, motto and seal.

By comparison, the state motto for Vermont is “Freedom and Unity,” “Excelsior” for New York, and “Live Free or Die” for New Hampshire.

The commission’s current deadline to send the Legislature the recommended changes is Dec. 31. However, there is a bill in the Senate that would extend the deadline to March 31, 2023.

Commission member Jim Wallace said at a recent meeting of the commission’s Public Consultation Subcommittee that he did not feel it was possible to launch a project of this magnitude in just a few months. While commissioners have talked plenty about their internal process, he said “we haven’t actually done anything.”

More recently, commission members moved to partner with the University of Massachusetts Amherst Poll to develop a public opinion survey to gauge where people stand on the issue, Sabadosa said.

The survey will allow people to weigh in on whether the state’s motto should be in English or Latin, or if an Indigenous person should be included in the state seal. Mass Humanities Executive Director Brian Boyles, who co-chairs the commission, has announced that UMass Poll offered to include seal-related questions in an October poll.

While Sabadosa’s legislation to form the commission took a long time to pass, she said she disagrees with the school of thought that changes to the flag, seal and motto should be swiftly done.

“I view this as an important conversation that the state needs to have — these are the symbols that represent us,” she said.

Material from State House News Service is included in this report.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.


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