Readers redesign Massachusetts flag

Last month, in a column adapted from my newsletter Arguable, I proposed a different design — a solution for the Massachusetts flag, which has been the subject of unresolved controversy for decades. The current flag features a Native American standing in the center against a dark blue shield with a gold bow and arrow pointing downward. Algonquin native An American arm holds a sword aloft in what some interpret as a threatening attitude, while below the shield is a ribbon with a sloppy Latin motto about peace, liberty and the sword.

For years, Beacon Hill has talked about designing a new flag for the Commonwealth, but a committee charged with coming up with a better design only ran out of time (and spent $100,000). So I decided to help out the politicians. I proposed that the Massachusetts flag be stripped down to its most attractive element: the majestic Algonquin native in gold, standing in the center of a white field. No sword, no ribbon, no motto.

I then asked readers what they thought.

The response was gratifyingly lively. A good number of readers supported my proposal for a “stand-up” Algonquin flag. However, I was persuaded to adopt a change by many who pointed out that a gold-on-white color scheme would be difficult to see. They recommended keeping the existing dark blue shield to provide visual contrast, which would make the flag stand out even from a distance.

To be fair, several readers insisted that the current flag should not be changed at all: “It is beautiful as it is,” wrote one. Some correspondents questioned the value of even having a state flag. “Flags are traditionally symbols of conquest and subjugation,” one reader observed.

But many readers took the challenge of coming up with a new design for the Massachusetts state flag seriously and shared their ideas with me. Of the more than two dozen proposals I received, here are seven of the most intriguing.

1. Jonathan Abbett of Brookline expressed misgivings about including a human figure as Massachusetts’s emblem. He suggested that the state flag instead revert to the pine tree symbol that represented Massachusetts from the time of the Revolutionary War through the latter half of the 20th century. While the tree was historically green, Abbett’s version is gold on a blue shield, a conscious echo of the current flag.

2. Eric Niermeyer’s proposed redesign begins with the red cross of St. George, the traditional flag of England, to recognize that Massachusetts has always been the center of New England. He also advocates bringing back the pine tree from Massachusetts’s historic flag. And, borrowing the design from Quebec’s provincial flag, Niermeyer places a tree in each of the four quadrants created by the cross.

3. Jan C. Hardenbergh, an activist from Sudbury, suggested that the new flag design combine two elements easily identifiable with Massachusetts: a map of the state and an image of blueberries. The illustration she submitted is not intended to be a finished design, but rather a preliminary prototype; I imagine it might bear a resemblance to the elegant flag of South Carolina, which also has an agricultural element (a palmetto) at its center.

4. Cal Nez of the Navajo Nation in New Mexico and Mark Wagner, founding director of the Binienda Center for Civic Engagement at Worcester State University, advocated pairing the Native American on the current flag with an English pilgrim, peacefully sharing an ear of corn. They would replace the state’s martial motto with a more humane and sympathetic message: “With knowledge of the past, with hope for the future.”

5. Keith Eddings of Newburyport was one of many readers who championed the idea of ​​a state flag featuring an Atlantic cod, in recognition of the exceptional importance of cod fishing in Massachusetts history. Cod has been a notable symbol of the Commonwealth for centuries; for Eddings, the actual fish and the state name are all the new flag needs.

6. Westwood resident Colin Cassidy’s four-quadrant flag prototype encompasses (1) the traditional pine symbol, (2) the equally traditional codfish, (3) a book to symbolize the learning that has always been important in Massachusetts, and (4) the Berkshire Mountains to highlight the state’s natural beauty.

7. Barrett Coakley, a Wellesley lecturer, drew on a classic image from Massachusetts history: the Mayflower of 1620. The famous ship is surrounded by 13 stars symbolizing the original colonies, and beneath them is a slogan popularized on license plates in the 1980s: “The Spirit of Massachusetts.”

One thing I’ve learned from this project is how strongly tradition appeals when people think of flags: Nearly every concept for a redesign incorporated one or more elements with deep roots in Massachusetts history: the pine tree, the color scheme, Native Americans.Meeting with pilgrims. Equally clear is that there is no shortage of thoughtful people with intelligent ideas about how best to symbolize this state. My advice to Beacon Hill? Let the public sort this out: hold up the proposals in these columns and see if anyone salutes them.

You can contact Jeff Jacoby at [email protected]To subscribe to Arguable, their weekly newsletter, visit