Groups Says Now is the Time to Change the State Flag


Above, a meeting in the Friends of the Library meeting room Tuesday evening. Kathleen Trefethen, a local supporter of the Change the Flag movement  standing at left, organization founder, David Detmold at right.

A group, called Change the Mass Flag held a meeting at the Franklin library Tuesday evening that it hopes will be preliminary to a resolution from the Franklin Town Council in support of changing the state’s seal and flag.

Introduced by local supporter, Kathleen Trefethen, the presenter at the event was David Detmold from Montague, in the western half of the state. He explained that the existing state seal (which appears on the flag) dates to 1898 and is an amalgam of some earlier flags and seals that depict a native American, bearing weapons but not in a warlike pose – and a Revolutionary-era version (designed by Paul Revere) that incorporated a colonist with a drawn sword.

In a lively discussion, Detmold tried to cover the long and complex history of the state’s symbols while also noting the history behind the symbols and, in particular, the conquest of the indigenous people that the whole heraldic effort seems to memorialize. In that regard, the arm and sword placed above the head of the figure was seen by reformers, and reportedly by native American groups, as indicative of subjugation. But one man in attendance noted that the specific motif came directly from “the Bedford Flag” – arguably the first flag ever used by Americans and, further, that it came from an aphorism, variously translated to mean “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty.”

On the other side of the issue, a person who identified as being of Micmac heritage faulted the presenter for not starting by acknowledging the names of the people’s whose land Franklin once was – and she guided him firmly through that catechetical exercise – and continued to correct his use of place names and personal names throughout the presentation.

Will the meeting lead to a resolution in Council? Possibly. One of the attendees was Councilor Melanie Hamblen. Stay tuned, as they say.

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A background to the meeting was that there is a relatively new commission on Beacon Hill tasked with studying a revision in the Seal. But Detmold pointed out that lobbying for such a commission has gone on for decades. The commission is moving ahead but has proposed multiple extensions for its original deadline and Detmold fears the whole process may eventually fizzle out without political pressure from below. His organization, which seems to be built around his own work, has already secured such measures from perhaps a dozen communities in Western Massachusetts and is now heading east.

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