Change The Massachusetts Flag

Today,  I’m home in Quincy, Massachusetts. This state, like the rest of the United States is on land stolen from Native Americans.

4th of July

Like last year on the 4th of July, it feels right to think about the founding of this country. I consider my birthday a personal new year and a time for self-reflection. Likewise, the birthday of this country is a time to think about the history of the United States — how we can do better now and in the future.

The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. But it wasn’t until five years later, in 1781, when the Massachusetts state legislature became the first to recognize the 4th as an official state celebration recognizing the anniversary of the country’s independence.

Receiving a link to sign a petition prompted me to write this post today, on the 244th birthday of the United States. The petition seeks to change the North Quincy High School mascot from the Yakoo, an offensive caricature that stereotypes Native American culture. I signed the petition and immediately thought about the Massachusetts flag.

Massachusetts Flag

When I was in my 20s and working for the state, I remember looking closely at the flag. Previously, I had only noticed the figure of a Native American man standing. But that day, I noticed that there is an arm holding a sword over his head.  A sword over his head!

Taking the Indigenous peoples’ land was bad enough. The flag shows the violence of it. Why should this emblem continue representing our state? Should we be proud of this? I am horrified by the symbolism.

The seal, which is on the flag, goes back to circa 1639, when the Massachusetts settlers adopted it. The sword was owned by Myles Standish, known for his violence against Native Americans as a military advisor for the Pilgrims in the Plymouth Colony in the 1620s.

Many say the the original sin in this country was slavery. As an African-American, I can trace my ancestry back to enslaved African-Americas in Virginia and South Carolina. The exact year enslaved Africans arrived to colonies in the Americas is not clear. Some have said 1619. But that seems to reference English colonies. The European slave trade began in the 1400s and Christopher Columbus may have transported enslaved Africans to the Americas in the late 1490s.

However, looking at the time line, Native Americans were here for thousands of years before European colonizers arrived. The theft of their land and the brutality against them was a sin. Slavery was an additional sin and the timelines intertwine.

Further, when people deem the United States a nation of immigrants, that leaves people out. Some of us were already here. Some of us came here unwillingly. We are a nation of immigrants, and Indigenous people and descendants of Africans who were enslaved in the United States. Let’s include us all.

Take Action

Since we’re at a place in time where symbols of white supremacy continue coming down, it’s well past time to change the Massachusetts flag. Especially as the Trump administration targets the Wampanoag tribe’s land. Is the state of Massachusetts in solidarity with Native Americans or not?

Last year, WGBH reported on the issue and a suggestion for the change could be an easy one. Remove the arm and sword and add a tree. A tree flag was one of the ones used during the American Revolution. Ships sailing from Massachusetts also used the tree flag. So adding a tree would be consistent with Massachusetts history.

For 36 years, the MA Indigenous Legislative Agenda has been working on changing the flag and seal, along with other initiatives as well.

Let’s support current legislation (S.1877 & H.2776) and urge the MA Rules Committee to move the Mass Flag and Seal Bill out of committee. Click on the links to send a letter. See a sample letter below.

I am a resident of (city or town), Massachusetts. I am writing in support of (S.1877 / H.2776) the bill to create a special commission, made up of Native leaders of the area now known as Massachusetts and state legislators, to change the state flag and seal of Massachusetts. The time has come to remove the sword that has been hanging over the heads of the Native people of this land for 400 years! This legislation has been stalled for 36 years in the legislature. Even Mississippi is holding bipartisan discussions now to remove the Confederate symbol from its state flag – which would leave Massachusetts as the last flag of white supremacy flying in the country. This image is a disgrace to the progressive traditions of our Commonwealth, an offense to Native people, and to everyone who upholds the value of racial justice for all. Thirty nine Massachusetts cities and towns have already voted at town meeting or city council to change the Massachusetts flag and seal, and an equal number of legislators now co-sponsor S.1877 / H.2776). Please vote favorably to move the legislation to change the Massachusetts flag and seal forward now.

*Updated 7/17/2020* Yesterday, there was a rally by Native American groups in front of the state house in support of this legislation and it generated some media attention. Governor Baker was asked about it during a press conference and stated that he is open to discussion.

*Updated 7/29/2020* There is real momentum behind this issue and the Massachusetts Senate unanimously approved new legislation (S.2848) to create a special commission. Now it’s up to the House and Governor.

*Updated 8/4/2020* North Quincy High School has changed the image of the Yakoo mascot.

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Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

On July 4th: An Open Letter To Speaker Pelosi

Image of John Hancock statue, represents the 4th of July.
Photo taken Monday, July 1, 2019. Statue of John Hancock at Hancock Adams Common in Quincy Center, Massachusetts.

It’s July 4th, 2019. The last time that I wrote a blog post dedicated to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was on July 1, 2007.

Being aware of her love for chocolate ice cream, I created a recipe for chocolate ice cream in her honor celebrating her becoming the first woman Speaker of the House.

I hadn’t looked at that 2007 post in years. Reading it again now, I noticed my disappointment in Pelosi’s refusal to consider impeaching President Bush. Impeachment was “off the table” as far as she was concerned.

Well, here we are again. Almost 12 years ago to the day. Same Speaker. And shockingly, an even worse president. And that’s saying something. Looking back, Bush doesn’t seem quite as horrifying as he did back then.

I don’t believe that will be the case with Trump, if this country survives as a Democracy for 12 years to look back on with a different president. The horrors his administration has inflicted are too many to name.

For now, let me just say that my heart is breaking for the atrocities being committed in this country. Not that unspeakable horrors against people of color is new in the United States. It’s literally what this country was founded on – the theft of Native American lands and the genocide against Native American people. Then the kidnapping and enslavement of Africans for centuries. Just last century during World War II, the property of Japanese Americans was stolen and they were rounded up and placed in concentration camps.

No. This country does not have a good human rights record. And I am skipping over a lot. But we are supposed to do better. Now it is brown immigrants from Mexico and Central America who are seeking asylum after fleeing violence, that are being rounded up and placed in concentration camps.

This past Monday, I took the picture above and I wrote a letter to Speaker Pelosi. Since it seems to fit the theme of July 4th, I’m sharing the letter below. You can submit a letter to Speaker Pelosi as well by clicking the link here.

Open Letter To Speaker Pelosi

Dear Speaker Pelosi,

The news that I read each day about the people being held in detention shakes me to the core. I have cried over this. We have concentration camps on our soil. The treatment of these men, women, children and babies is deplorable, cruel and seem to be crimes against humanity.

I understand that there is virtually no chance that the Senate would convict and remove President Trump. But I still think that an impeachment inquiry in the House should begin. Please start the process. At least there will be televised hearings, so that more people in this country will see the reality of what is happening.

Soon after President Trump was elected,  I remember hearing that his team was looking into the Korematsu decision. Between that, Trump’s greed, racism,  lawlessness and the growth and profitability of private prisons, I thought that there could be concentration camps here. It was only a matter of when and who would be in them. Now we are here. I don’t know how we fix this, but as I prepare for the 4th of July, I am taking the words of the Declaration of Independence to heart.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

I live in Quincy, Massachusetts and today visited a memorial to John Hancock, stating that he was the first signer of the Declaration. He was born here. Just a few miles away from where I am writing now.  I understand there is much hypocrisy involved with the Declaration. I am a black woman and my rights and humanity would not have been acknowledged at the time of the signing. But we are supposed to be better than that now.

For the love of God, please use your power to ease the suffering of those who have fled violence to come here looking for safe haven and are now essentially being tortured. I beg you.

Sincerely,

Lisa Johnson

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Current events may have many of us contemplating a bit more about what it means to be American. So much happening in this country is heartbreaking, unnecessary, and to be frank, criminal.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We the people can make a difference in very tiny ways. Even if only calling our House Representative and Senators to tell them how we feel. If we each do something that resonates with us, we can make this country better than it ever was.

Along with fireworks, picnics and barbecues, on this July 4th, it’s the perfect day to reflect on this nation’s founding — and think about how we can reset, striving towards a more perfect Union.

Quote of the Week: John Adams

An American flag with fireworks in front of it, shows 4th of July celebration.

The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776, “Had a Declaration…”

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