The Racist Flag of Massachusetts Still Flies

Faries Gray, Sagamore of the Massachusett Tribe at Ponkapoag / at the State House : November 19, 2019 / Anna Gyorgy photo

Another year, another legislative session, and the racist flag of Massachusetts still flies above the gold dome of the state house on Beacon Hill.

It disgraces the stage of every town hall meeting room, city council chamber, and public school auditorium in the Commonwealth.

Thirty-eight years after former representative Byron Rushing of Boston, acting in cooperation with the late director of the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs John “Slow Turtle” Peters, first introduced legislation to establish a special commission to change the flag and seal of Massachusetts, we are still upholding the imagery – supposed to express the highest ideals of our Commonwealth – of a white hand holding a drawn sword over the head of an Indigenous person. That is our state symbol. “Peace Under the Sword, but Peace with Liberty,” reads the Latin motto underneath.

This is the symbolism we teach to our grade school children each year when they study the state flag and seal as part of the elementary school core curriculum.

This is the symbolism our elected officials share with all of their constituents on letters and documents, part of the daily working of our state bureaucracy.

This is the imagery we find on the doors of state patrol cars, on the dais of our courtrooms, on bridge abutments and the welcoming road signs standing at the border of each town and city in the Commonwealth.

It is ubiquitous. It is invidious. It is the last state flag of white supremacy still flying in America today, and it is not going away unless we push for final action and take it down.

Special Commission in Limbo

After 40 cities and towns took formal votes in favor of changing the flag and seal, adding their voices to the call of Indigenous leaders, racial justice committees and faith based groups from the Berkshires to Cape Cod, finally, in the wee hours of January 6th, 2021, the legislature passed the bill Byron Rushing had championed over more than 30 years. They set up a special commission – which would invite six Indigenous leaders from the area we now call Massachusetts to sit with state legislators, historians, the secretary of state’s designee, and others – to study the present state symbol and recommend changes.

The commission was given no funding to work with, and told to complete this historic work in less than nine months, by October 1st, 2021. But, then Governor Charlie Baker failed to even fully seat the commission until November of that year.

The commission began meeting in earnest in January of last year. After months of hard work, the Indigenous leaders on the special commission finally forged a consensus among their white colleagues, and the entire commission voted in favor of seeking a total redesign of the flag, seal and motto on May 18th, 2022.

Statewide media reported the unanimous vote as if a new flag and seal for the Commonwealth were now a done deal. But the commission never had the power to do anything other than make a recommendation to the state legislature – the same legislature which has consistently sidelined and blocked the effort to change the racist symbol of our Commonwealth since 1985.

Over the summer and fall, the commission sought a way to translate their unanimous vote into action. They asked for more time and for long needed funds to conduct public polling and listening sessions around the state, to gather public input on a new design. The asked for funds to pay for graphic artisans to create a mock-up for a new design.

That funding finally came as a line item in the negotiated-behind-closed-doors Economic Development Bill signed by the governor in mid-November. But the extension the special commission had sought (until March 31st of 2023) somehow failed to be included.

The commission was given $100,000 to work with and no time to spend it, or to complete their work in an orderly fashion.

What’s Next?

Senate advocates for the long overdue change to the state flag and seal are calling for the special commission to simple reconvene and complete their work.

The reasoning is, “We gave them the money, and the money does not go away with the turning of the calendar year.”

The $100,000 remains available for the special commission to spend until 2025. The legislature is awaiting the final results of the special commission’s labor, says one of the chief backers of the bill that established the special commission. But the commission remains unsure of its mandate, and unclear on next steps.

Towns and Cities Continue to Weigh In

Meanwhile, every year since 2018, more and more cities and towns have joined a long, growing list of municipalities that are calling on their state legislators to get this long awaited change accomplished. Last year, 14 more towns, many of them in heartland counties in the center of the state, voted in favor of changing the flag and seal.

This spring, concerned citizens, members of faith communities, and racial justice groups will bring similar resolutions to their city council and annual town meeting agendas, heeding the call of Indigenous leaders on the special commission to Change the Flag and Seal!

Your Help is Needed

Please take a moment to look at the map of towns and cities that have already voted in favor of this long awaited change on the home page of this website:

You can click on the towns shaded in a light tan color to see where upcoming votes are being scheduled, where help is needed.

If your town is not on the map yet for either voting in favor or about to hold a vote, please contact us to find out how you can help us add your town or city to that growing list. The contact button is on the home page, under the heading “Get Involved.”

As of today, 56 Massachusetts cities and towns have voted in favor of changing the flag and seal. Only two, Rowley and Harwich, have so far voted to keep the flag and seal unchanged.

A great deal of hard work and effort on the part of grassroots volunteers has led to this impressive outcome., and they deserve all our thanks.

Whatever Massachusetts city or town we live in, we all need to press our state legislators to take heed of the growing chorus among the municipalities, small and large, from Stockbridge to Provincetown, that are calling on the legislature to get this done.

The time has come. Allow no further delay. Take down the racist flag and seal today. Give us a state symbol we can be proud of, to teach our school children and show the world at large that in Massachusetts we believe in equity, justice, and harmonious relations among all the people who call the Commonwealth home today.

Thank you.

Findings of the Special Commission

When you contact your state legislators, tell them the special commission was unambiguous in their findings that change must happen now.

Here are the findings of the special commission on the seal and motto of the Commonwealth, as of December, 2022

  1. Massachusetts should create a new design for the seal and motto of the Commonwealth
  2. Massachusetts should incorporate symbols and terms in a new seal and motto that are inspirational and inclusive of the diverse perspective, history, and experiences of Massachusetts residents.
  3. Massachusetts should dedicate more resources to educating the public about the history and cultures of Massachusetts, in particular: the Indigenous history and cultures of Massachusetts, the history and usages of the current seal and motto, and the harm inflicted by the current seal and motto, and the efforts to change the seal and motto.
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