On Saturday morning, May 13th, a 17-year old high school senior named Alice Jenkins, not yet able to vote in town affairs, stood up to introduce a resolution to a hushed crowd gathered in the historic Westhampton town hall for annual town meeting.
Alice spoke movingly about the history behind the flag and seal of Massachusetts: how the bones of an Indigenous person had been taken from the Town of Winthrop and used in modelling the proportions of the Indigenous figure on our state flag and seal; how a photograph of a Chippewa chief from Montana had been used for the facial features on the Massachusetts symbol. She spoke of the sword of Myles Standish, chosen by illustrator Edmund Garrett as the prototype for the sword held over the head of the Indigenous figure on the Massachusetts flag, a sword Standish is known to have used to ambush and kill Native people.
Before Alice resumed her seat, the Town of Westhampton had voted unanimously in favor of changing the flag and seal of Massachusetts.
In Becket on Saturday evening, about 100 voters gathered for the town meeting in the auditorium of the elementary school and listened as Al Blake told them, “Our town – like every city and town in Massachusetts – is required to fly this flag. We teach it to our children in grade school as part of the core curriculum. But tonight we have an opportunity to call upon our state legislators to change our state flag and seal, so that all citizens feel welcomed and valued….
“During this process some people have said, ‘You are trying to change our history.’ To them, I say, ‘Unfortunately, we cannot.’
“All we can do is change the official symbols of our state to show that building better relationships with Indigenous people is important to us. This historic dialogue is taking place right now, with Indigenous leaders sitting on the Special Commission. After all these years they deserve our full support.”
With that statement, the Town of Becket, with only one person raising a hand in opposition, became the 71st community to call upon the state legislature to change the flag and seal.
A few towns, such as North Brookfield and Monson, where our twice-impeached former president still enjoys a strong following, have voted in recent weeks to oppose the resolution to change the flag and seal. But the conversations supporters were able to hold with voters in those towns were vigorous and informative and, by and large, congenial.
That dialogue in itself should be regarded as something of a victory as we reckon with the institutional racism embedded in the Commonwealth’s official symbol.
Towns across the state have been voting since 2018 on the simple proposition that a white hand holding a sword over the head of an Indigenous person is not an appropriate symbol of the highest ideals of the Commonwealth. It never was.
Since mid-April, when we last posted an update on this grassroots effort of local democracy pushing for statewide change, the towns of W. Newbury (unanimously, with a round of applause for Jillian Knowles’ speech), Newbury (thank you, Cynthia Raschke), Harvard (by overwhelming majority, following Ginger Kendall’s lead), Hanson (due to the hard work of Marianne DiMascio, in a town where Trump beat Biden in the last election; Hanson is now the first town in Plymouth County to vote for the change), Ashby (a Welcoming Town, thank you, Evie Gleckel), Belchertown (91 – 54), Grafton (decisively, in the home of the Hassanamisco Nipmuc tribe), Merrimac (overwhelmingly, following Lance Hidy’s speech) Ipswich (353 – 121, with the state senate minority leader, Bruce Tarr, present and, we hope, listening carefully), and Lee (44 – 39, at 11:30 pm, after a crucial save from Jody Shafiroff, when the original sponsor had to leave the meeting early) have all voted to change the flag and seal, while the towns of Pepperell and Hawley have joined N. Brookfield and Monson in opposition.
We may get a chance to revisit this issue in Hawley, where the number of people voting against the resolution (14) was outweighed by the number of people who signed the petition to get it on the town meeting warrant in the first place (17). Turnout matters.
Today, with the unanimous support of the voters in Westhampton and the nearly unanimous vote in Becket, we can accurately say that more than 20 percent of the towns and cities in Massachusetts are now formally on record in support of changing the flag and seal.
The Special Commission established to recommend a new design for the Massachusetts flag, seal and motto is expected to resume meeting in the coming weeks.
The six Indigenous leaders who serve on the Commission have called upon their colleagues since 2021 to come together and totally revise the seal and motto.
They have the solid backing of city councils and town meetings across the Commonwealth.
Get in touch through the homepage of changethemassflag.com if you would like to help your city or town join the growing list of communities demanding action on this long stalled racial justice measure.
Massachusetts is still flying a flag of white supremacy.
That is a shameful thing.
None of us should stand for it.
Write to Governor Healey today and tell her to retire that flag of shame immediately, until the Special Commission completes their work and the legislature acts to create a new symbol of peace, justice, inclusion and harmony for the Commonwealth.