New York village votes to keep logo criticized as racist

Folks in a central New York village want to keep the community's official logo, which appears to show a white man choking a Native American, even though critics call it racist.

In a non-binding vote Monday night, residents of Whitesboro -- a village of about 3,700 in Oneida County -- voted 157-55 to not change their current seal. 

The Whitesboro website says the emblem dates to the early 1900s and depicts a friendly wrestling match between village founder Hugh White and an Oneida Indian.

It says White won the match and the lasting goodwill of the Oneidas.

"In 1963, the Seal was re-designed by local artist, Gerald E. Pugh, to commemorate the Village's Sesquicentennial," the town says on its website.

"In an article of the Observer Dispatch, written by Joe Kelly in 1977, a notice of claim was filed with the Village Board saying the seal depicts a 'white man choking an Indian' and said the seal demeans, disgraces and creates prejudice and distrust of Indian people," a statement on the "history" section of the town's website says.

Kelly asked the village to stop displaying the seal, and, as a result of this, the seal was re-designed with Hugh White's hands being placed on the Indian's shoulders and "not so close to his neck," according to the statement.

"The wrestling match was an important event in the history of the settling of the Village of Whitesboro and helped foster good relations between White and the Indians," the town says.

The seal appears on village police cars, signs and stationery. Controversy has waxed and waned over the years and came to a head last summer, when an online petition was posted by someone who saw the logo and took offense.

Ben Miller, of Manhasset, N.Y., started a petition on last summer to redesign the sign.

"Recently, I noticed a disturbing image emblazoned on the city seal of a town in my home state," Miller writes on the petition, which now has nearly 10,000 signatures.

"The city of Whitesboro, NY proudly displays what looks like a European settler choking, or violently handling, a Native American man. According to legend, the seal represents a famous wrestling match between the city’s founder, Hugh White, and a Native American man," Miller writes.

"White won the match, thereby gaining the local Indians’ respect. But to me, this seal is anything but respectful to my people and my heritage," said Miller, who also wrote that he is a Lenape Indian and a citizen of both the Delaware Tribe of Indians and Cherokee Nation.

Miller's sentiments have been echoed by residents from around the state.

"I'm signing because I am a Mohawk Native American from New York State and I am deeply offended by the seal depicting the slaughter of my people," wrote one supporter.

Miller's petition, however, was launched after the mass shooting by a white gunman inside a historically black church in Charleston, S.C., in June. Images and news stories about the sign flooded Twitter, with hashtags like #TakeItDown, #ChangeTheSeal, #NotTheOnion and #RedesigntheSign.

The town mayor was not immediately available for comment when contacted Tuesday.

The logo has been the subject of debate for more than 55 years. According to a 2009 article in the Utica Observer-Dispatch, Whitesboro was sued over the seal by a Native American group in the 1970s.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.