State seal set to get a makeover
Commission, not at full strength, to hold first meeting
AFTER HUNDREDS of years, the state’s coat of arms, seal, and state flag are getting a makeover, or at least that’s the plan.
A commission created by a state resolution that made its way through the Legislature last year and won final approval at 4 a.m. on January 6 holds its first meeting today. The commission doesn’t have its full complement of 19 members yet, but it needs to get moving because it has an October 1 deadline for coming up with a new design.
The current design, which is ubiquitous on windows, flags, and documents at the State House, features a Native American holding a bow in his right hand and a downward-facing arrow in his left. Above him is a disembodied arm holding a sword. Underneath, in Latin, are the words “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty.”
The design of the seal went through several iterations between 1629 and 1780, some of them engraved by Paul Revere. The design didn’t become fixed until the late 1800s, when the Legislature approved a strict description and a statewide contest yielded an official version that remains in use today.
The debate over the seal is similar to debates in recent years about statues and team mascots that have come to be seen as offensive. Elizabeth Solomon, an elder of the Massachusetts Tribe at Ponkapoag, issued a statement when the Legislature adopted the resolution urging the governor to quickly sign it.
“The imagery of the current flag and seal promotes a history of conquest, appropriation, and genocide,” she said.Lucas Guerra and Scott Zoback, who work for a branding and communications agency in Boston, wrote an op-ed for CommonWealth a year ago suggesting the seal represents cultural values that are centuries out of date.
“Whatever your interpretation, it is a boastfully ethnocentric image that shouts a message of domination to every Native American, immigrant, person of color, or other resident who walks into any state building, particularly the State House,” they wrote. “Changing the seal isn’t about erasing history. On the contrary, this is about recognizing history itself, and representing the history of a diverse state in an inclusive manner. This is a small gesture about recognizing the true breadth of experience in our history, even if we will never right wrongs.”