The Martha’s Vineyard chapter of the NAACP will appear at the next Oak Bluffs selectmen’s meeting to request the removal of two plaques that pay tribute to Confederate soldiers at the Soldiers’ Memorial Fountain in Ocean Park.
Chapter president Erik Blake told The Times the chapter had unanimously voted Saturday to attend the selectmen’s March 26 meeting to ask the town to remove the plaques and donate them to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.
The first plaque on the statue reads, “‘The chasm is closed.’ In memory of the restored Union this tablet is dedicated by the Union veterans of the Civil War and patriotic citizens of Martha’s Vineyard in honor of the Confederate soldiers.”
The second plaque, installed at the foot of the monument, details the statue’s history.
“I don’t think the government of Oak Bluffs should be publicly honoring the Confederates,” Blake told The Times. “[The plaques are] a piece of history, but should not displayed in honor. It belongs in the museum.”
The chapter is not advocating for the removal of the statue, which depicts a Union soldier. Charles Strahan, a publisher of the Martha’s Vineyard Herald and a Confederate veteran, erected the statue in 1891 as “a gesture of conciliation,” according to the plaque. The statue was once painted gray, and incorrectly referred to as the only Civil War memorial in the North that depicts a Confederate soldier. In 2001, the statue was rededicated, and the gray paint was removed to avoid confusion.
Blake said the request to remove the plaques has been in the works for a while, at the urging of Clennon King, a Boston-based filmmaker and seasonal visitor, as well as other summer residents.
In a 2017 Letter to the Editor, as several states across the country began removing Confederate monuments, King called the Oak Bluffs monument the “offensive elephant in the room.”
After Saturday’s meeting, King wrote a press release detailing the events at the meeting, but Blake said King is not a member of the chapter and the release was “not his to give.”
King, however, disagreed, saying he was invited to speak at the meeting, and as a private citizen did not need authorization to write a release.
King called the plaques “egregious” because his tax dollars and the tax dollars of all summer visitors to the Island help preserve the monument.
“It’s a mockery, it’s a contradiction,” King said. “They are paying tribute to a Confederate soldier who took a bullet to preserve slavery … It’s got to go.”