Update: Residents have voted to keep the current seal rather than replace it.
A few hours from now, residents of Whitesboro, in Oneida County, New York, will go on vote to decide whether or not they want to keep their official seal. The seal, which dates back to the 19th century, depicts Hugh White, the founder of Whitesboro engaging in a friendly wrestling match with a member of the local Oneida tribe. But the way the image is framed, with White’s hands close to his opponent’s neck and the Native American being forced toward the ground in apparent submission, it appears as if the white man is choking him.
The seal is displayed on all official documents, trucks and equipment, and has been debated since the 1960s. It was thrown, once again, into the national spotlight in the summer of 2015. This time the storm it rose on the internet and social media forced Whitesboro’s Mayor to put an end to it once and for all.
The seal was originally designed in 1883 and showed the Indian closer to the ground, and with White’s hands actually on the Native American’s neck. When Whitesboro was sued over the seal by a Native American group in the 1970s, the village changed the image moving the founder’s hands from the Native American’s neck to his shoulders.
Last summer, following the Charleston church shooting —where a shooter mowed down a group of people inside a church with a handgun— the shooter Dylann Roof was seen displaying the Confederate flag, prompting scrutiny of potentially racist symbols still used around the country.
The original seal of Whitesboro. Photo credit: Samuel Klein/Twitter
Soon after, an online petition was launched calling for the removal of the seal drawing up over 9,600 signatures. The petition reads:
It is no longer appropriate to shroud oneself in the Confederate flag, or use Native Americans as mascots. Businesses have stopped selling Confederate memorabilia, and the Washington Redskins have been shunned for refusing to change their distasteful name. Americans are standing up and speaking out against images and rhetoric that can be construed as hateful.
This is what I ask. I, like other Native Americans, both in the US and Canada, wish you to remove the crest and replace it with a new one. We feel that the time has come.
Although Whitesboro has agreed to vote on it, village officials maintain that the seal is not racist, derogatory or violent, but a very accurate depiction of an important event in the village’s history that helped build relations between White and the area’s Native American population. According to the village’s website, White accepted the challenge of a friendly duel, and “by a fortunate trip” succeeded in throwing the chief to the ground almost instantly. “After the fight, Hugh White became a hero in the eyes of the Oneida Indians,” the website read.
“I am aware that people are upset about it," says Whitesboro mayor Patrick O’Connor. "Some have reached out directly to me through my village email. And if they looked at the seal and went with an opinion based solely on what they’re looking at, I could understand why people would have concern about it.”
On Monday, January 11, residents of the village will choose from eight to 10 new seals designed for the village. The voting will take place at the village office from 6 to 9 p.m.
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