The Massachusetts Flag Debate: History Deserves a Fair Hearing, Not Another Rush to Judgment

“white supremacy culture.” I admit that I tend to react instinctively in opposition to the removal of historic images or memorials. However, the Massachusetts flag dispute seemed strikingly similar to the debate that we recently had (and lost) at GW over our moniker “The Colonials.”

According to activist Marianne Vesey, the state flag and seal depicts a “colonializing and violent depiction that is really supporting the fact that white people are in charge of this world and that we have to subdue the Native American people.”

The official emblem of the State goes back to 1775 and was later adopted by Governor John Hancock and his government on December 13, 1780. The seal and flag have gone through changes through the years. The first seal, for example, depicted a nude Indian with a bush covering his groin. That image was later changed.

The current depiction is reportedly based on a composite sketch using the image of the Chippewa chief Thomas Little Shell III.

In fairness to critics, there is history related to older images that had offensive elements common at the time. During King Philip’s War in 1676, the Bay Colony ordered a seal with the words “In the present Warr with the Heathen Natives of this Land / They giving us peace and mercy at their hands.”

The question is whether the current image of a Native American is itself racist as opposed to reflecting the Native American origins of the area. Many of the objections appear to be the juxtaposition of the sword above the head of the figure.

However, the sword above the figure was added around the revolution and was a reference to resisting British rule, not Native Americans.

For some of us, it is reminiscent of our debate over the Colonials. The objections to the Colonials was entirely ahistorical and uninformed on its meaning. It did not matter.

For roughly 100 years, George Washington rallied behind our beloved mascot of the Colonials.  Then someone declared it meant celebrating the colonization of other people, as opposed to resisting such occupation.

The petition read: “The historically, negatively-charged figure of Colonials has too deep a connection to colonization and glorifies the act of systemic oppression.”

It is nothing of the kind.  The Colonials reflect our history as one of the oldest universities in the country founded at the direction of George Washington.  Washington called for the establishment of a national university and left funds for our charter in in his last will and testament.  President James Monroe approved the charter in 1821.  It was meant to be a new university that reflected a new nation.  This country was founded by colonials who forged a new vision for democratic process and individual freedoms.

Former Hatchet reporter Andrew Hesbacher, along with Rachel Yakobashvili and Emma Krasnopoler started the campaign.   Hesbacher is quoted as saying “Colonialist, terrorist, murderer. In a lot of places that’s what colonials mean to people.”  Of course, that is the value of learning about the true meaning of terms.  The thirteen colonies were the seedlings that grew into a new Republic.  This school reflects those founding members of our nation.

Many people objected that an initial vote to change the name was held with little notice and relatively few students voted. Even then it was close. The university then created a committee to study the issue, which seemed to avoid inviting those of us who had long argued in favor of the name. That followed a panel of discussion that notably omitted anyone arguing for the Colonials. It was clear from the outset that the name would be dropped.

Now Massachusetts is arguing the same ahistorical point. The sword accompanied the Latin motto “Manus haec inimica tyrannis ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem.”(“This hand of mine, which is hostile to tyrants, seeks by the sword quiet peace under liberty.”) Again, it was a statement against British rule. Rather than educate people on the origins and meaning of symbols, particularly the sword over the figure, it is now a racist symbol by acclamation.

Massachusetts has a rich history that helped shape this Republic and its ideals. It is part of our shared history; we are all beneficiaries of the patriots that rose up in the Bay State. The flag is part of our collective history. It is a shame to sever another symbol from the founding period without a full and honest discussion on the Massachusetts seal and flag.

The fear is that, once a movement coalesces around a racist claim, many fall silent out of fear of being tagged or attacked. We have seen that happen on many campuses. I hope that this will be different. Many of us are open to hear why this image is racist and now intolerable. However, the flag and seal should not be discarded in another mad fit of political correctness. For hundreds of years, this symbol and its precursors have rallied Massachusetts and served as a reminder of a shared legacy. We should give it more than a passing consideration in a rush to sanitize history.

138 thoughts on “The Massachusetts Flag Debate: History Deserves a Fair Hearing, Not Another Rush to Judgment”

  1. Boston can’t bus students to school and Sachem warren is worried about the flag? Progressive clowns are funny. Unfortunately for inner city minority youth, the results are not funny.

    1. RE :”Boston can’t bus students to school…”What to expect when an advocate and practitioner of an alternate life style is raised to the leadership of the union which represents the educational establishment of this nation.

  2. The Latin in the official seal will also be triggering to snowflakes. The Roman Empire colonized other lands.

    Same goes for English, so we will all eventually have to speak Esperanto.

  3. The Native American depicted on the seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony is saying “Come over and help us.” Why is this ironic? The Native Americans were hurt by the presence of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. to comply with rules, standards, or laws. They were massacred and driven from their land. There’s ample reason to reconsider the seal of the state. If Mississippi could change their state flag Massachusetts can too.

    1. So you’ll be moving to another continent soon, then, to be consistent with your views? If not, I understand . . . signaling one’s virtue is so much less expensive when one can simply denounce a state seal and get the same level of kudos from one’s fellow travelers.

      As far as the phrase, “Come over and help us” – you probably have no idea what that refers to, right?

    2. There were no massacres in Massachusetts except by the natives against the colonists (not criticizing or defending it… just saying)

  4. I’m surprised that Ms. Vesey isn’t demanding the elimination of “Commonwealth” from the official state lexicon as well. Another faux crisis for the woke left (although I did enjoy Princess “Lieawatha” Warren jumping into the fray on this one). Thank you, Jonathan, for an excellent article.

    1. RE:”Activists of this sort…” Good that you bring this to light once more. This history has been raised in these conversations before. The Spanish conquests of Middle America brought to an end, the Aztec domination of the region. Absent that, the so-called ‘Native Americans’ might not have been those that we presently know

  5. The Left only destroys, never creates. Small-minded people get their kicks out of banning something or demanding an apology. That is not the way to Tikkun Olam. They will go to their graves having left the world a worse place.

  6. There is a good reason that throughout the rest of New England, the residents of the Bay State are referred to as Massholes. It’s a matter of having a well-earned reputation that only a very few contemporary Bay Staters don’t deserve.

    I grew up wiith this awareness, but initially assumed it derived from their being such horrible drivers — the closer you get to Boston, the more-horrible (morrible). A Mass license plate is like the stripes on a bumble bee — a pleasant warning to exercise sound judgement and steer WAY clear, else you might get stung.

    As Dirty Harry warned, “Do ya feel lucky, punk? Well, do ya?” He wasn’t referring to spotting a Massachusetts license plate, but he might just as well have been.

    Anyone who’s ever spent significant time “Down East” knows that it’s much more than a matter of the way they operate motor vehicles when journeying northward and/or out of their self-absorbed hive. It’s something about the way they can look right at you and still not recognize your existence, either on the road or off.

    If they want to redesign the Mass flag to fit contemporary circumstances, I recommend the image of a lowered car window with a hand extended through it giving the rest of the world the finger.

  7. History backs up the claims of those who want to change the flag’s symbolism. Turley may need of brush up on his history if he is going to criticize the change.

    “ In fairness to critics, there is history related to older images that had offensive elements common at the time. During King Philip’s War in 1676, the Bay Colony ordered a seal with the words “In the present Warr with the Heathen Natives of this Land / They giving us peace and mercy at their hands.”

    Turley leaves out the Pequot war.which occurred before King Phillips’s war. The Bay colonists were Puritans, religious zealots who were fleeing “persecution” by the Anglican Church.

    “ In 1636, the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s third governor, Sir Henry Vane (l. 1613-1662) sent John Endicott (l. c. 1600-1665) on an expedition to Block Island, where Oldham was killed, to demand from the Western Niantic the surrender of the murderers. Endicott wound up burning the native villages there and killing one man before sailing on to a coastal Pequot village, burning it, killing more people, and destroying crops. In retaliation, the Pequots began raiding English settlements and killing colonists. The conflict escalated, and on 26 May 1637, a company of militia from Massachusetts and Connecticut colonies, assisted by members of the Narragansett and Mohegan tribes, attacked the Pequot stronghold at Mystic. The fort was set on fire and over 700 Pequot, mostly women and children, killed. Survivors fled to another fortification and were led by their chief Sassacus (l. c. 1560-1637) toward safety in New Netherlands (modern-day New York State) where they hoped to find welcome from the Iroquois Confederacy. The Mohawks of the Iroquois instead executed Sassacus, sending his head and hands back to the English.

    Of the approximately 3,000 Pequots who lived in the region at the time, only a little over 200 survived the war. Some of these were sold into slavery in the West Indies, Bermuda, or to local farmers while others were given as slaves to the Mohegans and Narragansetts. The Pequots were forbidden to call themselves by their name or inhabit their ancestral lands and, even after the war, bounty was paid by colonial authorities for Pequot scalps.“

    “ The expansion of the colony brought the settlers into conflict with the Native Americans of the region. Winthrop’s Indian policy held that, first of all, God had cleared the land of natives between c. 1600-1620 CE through disease in order to make settlement by his chosen people easier and, second, that since the natives did not fence off their lands or appear to make the most of them, any land without an actual Native American settlement on it was free for the taking by any colonist. Misunderstandings, greed, religious intolerance, and simple racism eventually led to the outbreak of the Pequot War between 1636-1638 CE, which was decided in favor of the colonists after the Mystic Massacre of 1637 CE in which over 700 Pequot, mostly women and children, were slaughtered in their fortified village by colonist militia.

    King Philip’s War between 1675-1678 CE broke out when the chief of the Wampanoag Confederacy, Metacom (known to the colonists as King Philip, l. 1638-1676 CE), could no longer tolerate the many broken treaties with Massachusetts Bay Colony and the continual land theft which pushed his people further and further into the interior. After Metacom was killed and the war won by the colonists, New England was controlled by the colonies and the natives were either moved to reservations or left the area.“

    This is why the term colonists has a bad image when you learn of the real history of how the Massachusetts colonies were established. It was racist at the time and it’s still now. That’s what happens when you whitewash history.

    1. Svelaz,
      Seems you’re on an anti-JT kick.
      Why are you here?

      I mean its one thing to disagree w Turley on some topics, yet everything you say is anti-Turley.

      You’re a troll. (And yes as someone who’s been on the internet since its inception, including Usenet… I am using the term troll correctly)

      The sad thing is that you can’t seem to comprehend what you read and spout some of the worst nonsense around.


      1. Ian – I’ve discussed this with her. She spends her days disagreeing with the professor and writing about it. According to her, on the rare occasions when she agrees with him, she remains silent.

      2. Ian, it’s a free speech blog. I can post any opinion I wish. All I post is a different point of view. Unfortunately most of it is contrary to Turley’s views and that’s ok according to Turley. It seems you would prefer a boring echo chamber where you just end up preaching to the choir.

        No, you’re using the term “troll” incorrectly.

        Troll; Trolling is when someone post or comments online to deliberately upset others. In short: Trolling is when someone deliberately tries to upset others online. Trolling can lead to a pile on, when others join in the attack.

        Offering a different point of view or contrary view is not trolling. Your being upset is only due to the fact that you’re annoyed by being exposed to a different point of view. You’re being a snowflake.

        1. When you lie, as you do, and defame others without proof, you are trolling. When you deny the existence of the written word, you are doing the same.

        2. Svelaz,
          Yes it is. But that doesn’t stop you from being a troll.

          If this were usenet, you would have earned an UDP.


      3. Ian, as I said to Ralph de brainless when I don’t like MSNBCI don’t watch it, but the left cannot be happy with something being available that they don’t like. They want to boycott advertisers of Fox and yet conservatives never call for banning CNN.

        Idiots like Ralph, Anonymous and Svelaz need the attention they receive by being “different” and contrarian.

    2. I am not aware of a single “native american” tribe that had a written language – therefore neithe ryou nor historians can possibly know what Metacom or any other indian hundreds of years ago thought or why they acted as they did.

      It is near certain that our history is one sided – but that does not mean it is possible to correct. We may know that the colonist portrayal was inaccurate – but made up claims of the the indians position is even more innaccurate.

      I would further note that “native americans” are merely the most recent wave of immigrants from asia that violently murdered or drove south their predecessors – just as colonists did.

      Colonists do not live up to the standards of our times – nor did indians.
      Both lived according to the standards of their own times – and the standards of the colonists and that of the indians was much the same.

      For 300 years there was violence between indians and colonists, Overall more indians were killed – primarily because colonists were better armed, and more advanced. Not because they were more violent.

      There is still significant debate about the extent to which north america was populated at Colombus’s arival.
      Some estimates go as high as a population fo 30-40M that was wiped out primarily by western disease – before colonists arrived at Plymouth.
      But there is no evidence of mass burials in the 16th century. Other estimates are as below 3m – a sparsely pretty much uninhabited country.

      Regardless, there is not all that much evidence of a people capable of an actual claim on the whole of north america.

      I do not know what the truth of the past is.
      Nor do you.

      I atleast do not pretend that there was some indian utopia.

    3. Turley may need of brush up on his history

      This is the funniest thing on the internet today.
      Svelaz accusing Prof Turley of not knowing his History.

    4. Svelaz – the changing of the flag is a whitewashing of history. The flag is part of history. History does not need to be likeable. It just needs to be let alone.

    5. Svelaz: Thx for your detailed history of the history of Mass. However, it won’t change some minds on this blog. They think the native peoples should be thankful the colonists brought “civilization” to them. It’s the same thinking that originally brought Dutch settlers to South Africa. And we know how that ended–apartheid!

  8. “. . . the juxtaposition of the sword above the head of the figure.”

    To be replaced with what? A surgeon’s scalpel above the figure of an innocent child?

    1. The injun has a bow and arrow so it is not racist enough. I don’t understand how that was allowed.
      The libs, the whiners, the protesters, the crybabies,the anti-American commie crowd of queens would have as a flag proposal a gay trans NA smoking reefer while scalping a screaming colonist with a cross flying off his neck as a wolf spirit animal eats his corsetted wife while the aborted baby lays in the dirt.
      The words “off our land racist bigot !” would be headlined.
      All opposing would be banned from the hearing and the vote would be sealed forever announcing it won overwhelmingly then 20X the required funds would be issued for implementation.

  9. Elizabeth Warren: “there’s only room for one Indian in this town”
    Irony. Lizard Warren fooled Harvard pretending to be Native American.

    1. Warren self identified as an American Indian.
      Using a fake story of Indian blood from several generations past.

      The issue we have today are all of these justice freedom warriors trying to find something or some cause to champion.
      A misguided or imagined slight is enough to set off the rabid pack.

      I blame this on the way history is taught. Rather than teach history in context, its taught thru revisionist eyes.


  10. “The objections to the Colonials was entirely ahistorical and uninformed on its meaning. It did not matter.”……actually Professor it is not ahistorical but rather it is “hysterical”.

    As Old “I cannot tell a lie!” George owned slaves….should we not change the name of the the State of Washington and the City that bears his name in the District of Columbia?

    Same goes for the University where you teach?

    UNC-Chapel Hill call themselves “Tar Heels” a term that is derived from the gallantry of Confederate Soldiers led by General Jackson.

    Just because someone is offended does not mean that millions have to get down on bended knee…..or in Warren’s case perhaps it is more like a wounded knee.

    History and the events it records and honors as well as condemns is what got us to where we are today…..and we should not alter it to fit contemporary thinking.

    The Seals and Flags of the many States have evolved and can continue to do so but those changes should be for reasoned and well thought out motivations.

    An example is poor ol’ Aunt Jemima….taking her image off a box of pancake mix did not improve race relations or the quality of the pancake mix…..but it sure demeaned the Woman that modeled for the image that wound up on those boxes.

    Should this Woke movement find its end as it is utterly rejected in the future…..what will the adherents to that corrupt ideology have to say when they monuments, signs, and symbols are erased from history?

  11. As someone who lived, note lived, in MA for 63 years it is obvious that the flag will be changed. The left never stops, they never give in and they never compromise.

    As a microcosm I offer an issue that occurred in liberal Concord, MA about 10 years ago where a typical activist proffered up a bill banning the sale of plastic water bottles within the town and there was a town vote on the matter. The people voted the ban down because a majority realized that a) it would force people to drink soda when thirsty or b) buy water in neighboring towns. So the activist managed to get a second vote on the bill and it again failed to pass. Of course being leftists they managed to get a third vote on the bill and it squeaked by giving the leftists their victory. Of course after THREE votes getting the bill passed there was never another vote to get it overturned.

    I guarantee that the flag will be changed. As for the suggestion above that a white, male pilgrim be put on the flag I can only laugh because it is more likely to end up being a transwoman that will grace the flag.

    PS. The best and most ironic thing would be for the state to remove the Native American and in order to honor their liberal senator put Liz Warren on it.

  12. Elizabeth Warren is just discontent that it is not her image on the flag representing native Americans.

  13. Funny how these activists always state white people who settled the Colonies were racist, yet they live in the state and many are weakthy from living in the state whose founders they condemn. I’ll bet they’d never give their salaries back to prove their total condemnation.

  14. they aren’t fighting for fairness and truth….they are fighting a civil war against America, for power and money!
    Democrats are fascists using every level of power to destroy opponents. GIVE THEM NOTHING. Take away their money and power!

    TAX all non-profits where ANYONE gets $100,000 money or benefit….end all federal aid for cities and colleges!

  15. I agree, get the Indian off the flag – it should be a white male pilgrim. They built the state and the country. Time to honor those that should be honored.

  16. I’ve lived in Massachusetts for almost 80 years. Why would they have used a Chippewa as a model? The indigenous tribes — one of which called itself Massachusetts — was Algonquin

  17. Whats that saying
    Only in faculty lounges can small inconsequential topics create such passion.

    It doesnt really cover this, but only a very small number of people want the change.

    1. I live here. Only a very small percent of the resident even know we have a seal (flag)

  18. “Mad fit[s] of political correctness” is the outward manifestation of the real virus of our time–far Left “progressivism”. While most debilitating to the young, it infects the elderly (Elizabeth Warren) as well. While herd immunity will ultimately rid us of this plague, it is people like you, Professor, that give us hope in the near term.

    1. I can’t leave a post about native Americans and Elizabeth Warren without… Ok, it’s Lent so I will abstain

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