Closing the chasm


It took a while, but this chasm has finally been closed.

After months of debate, some of it with ugly racist undertones that could have created a deep Island divide, the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen voted unanimously to remove two plaques from the Civil War monument and donate them to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.

The vote does two things — it honors the history of the plaques, but more important, it respects the wishes of the Martha’s Vineyard chapter of the NAACP.

In the end, it really shouldn’t have been a tough decision.

We understand that the board of selectmen did not want to make a knee-jerk reaction, but we worried that they would put this to a town vote, as some had suggested. That would have sent an awful message that somehow a community’s character can be decided by a small number of voters at the ballot box.

We also worried that the board would let this issue linger too long, further dividing people. It also threatened to divide year-rounders and seasonal visitors — something that wouldn’t be healthy for an Island so dependent on its seasonal residents and visitors.

Charles Strahan, a former Confederate soldier who came to this Island after the war and launched a newspaper, hoped by erecting this statue that he could help facilitate the healing process between the Union and Confederates. The statue was completed in 1891, and years later a plaque was added that states, “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.”

It’s those last six words that we, and many others, found offensive.

Taking down those plaques doesn’t erase the history of the statue, or its intent. It also doesn’t erase the terrible early history of this country, which included yanking people from their homeland and selling them into slavery. It’s a shameful legacy that we need to continue to understand and overcome.

It’s fitting that the Oak Bluffs vote came just days before Memorial Day, a day originally created to honor the soldiers who fought in the Civil War — on both sides. As Gov. Charlie Baker’s proclamation about Memorial Day — sent to all 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts rightly points out — the day was originally called Decoration Day. It was a day created “while the nation was still recovering from the horrors of the Civil War” and “to honor the Union and Confederate soldiers who had given their lives.”

That’s the history of it, and no amount of scratching out in our history books will erase that. We shouldn’t erase it because, as Winston Churchill said, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Time, reflection, and, sadly, more deaths in subsequent wars have changed the name from Decoration Day to Memorial Day — a day when we honor all men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom. That’s not what Confederate soldiers were fighting for, and the decision by Oak Bluffs selectmen demonstrates an understanding of that fact.

We grow.

In time, this controversy over the plaques will fade from memory.

But there is still work to be done on the larger chasm. We clearly have a way to go to overcome racism. But today we can celebrate the clearing of one hurdle.

Thank you to the NAACP for bringing this issue to light with a workable and thoughtful solution. And thank you to the Oak Bluffs selectmen for listening.


Giving back

We were fortunate to chronicle Give Back Day at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School on Friday, May 16. Students and faculty at the school, more than 600 strong, fanned out across the Island from Edgartown to Aquinnah to provide helping hands to more than 60 organizations.

Beaches were cleaned, goose droppings shoveled, bread was made, fire engines were scrubbed, animals were cared for, and senior citizens got some face time with the youth of the Island — to name a few.

It was an A-plus effort by the school and its student body — one we can confirm was thoroughly appreciated by those who were visited by this army of volunteers.


  1. Not a matter of opinion: George Santayana is the author of the quote about history that the newspaper has misattributed to Winston Churchill.

    • Actually we quoted Churchill accurately, but like many things that are famously quoted, he was not the first.

      • Santayana was a famous aphorist in his day, and his quote was so widely known that it has been often paraphrased and just as often misattributed, for example to Edmund Burke. It doesn’t sound in the least like Burke, but he is more famous today than Santayana. Churchill is more famous than either. It is not impossible to believe that Churchill paraphrased Santayana, but I would like to know where. Trust, but verify.

        • Obilio — why are you chasing this one ? Churchill said it– George explained it– I think the editor of this publication has better things to do than chase down some quote for you. if you are concerned about the accuracy of who said what when , you can spend your time looking it up.

          • Tried to. Couldn’t find any verifiable reference. I have seen claims that it is a misattribution, that it does not appear anywhere in Churchill’s writing. I suppose one could search the whole of Hansard to see whether it occurs in a speech. But the simplest thing for a newspaper who is quoting someone is to explain where and when that person said it. Otherwise, it looks like laziness on the part of the paper. Surely you don’t believe that because an editor says it is so, it must be so.

        • ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ (George Santayana-1905). In a 1948 speech to the House of Commons, Winston Churchill changed the quote slightly when he said (paraphrased), ‘Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.’

          You can google it, Oblio, as I just did. As a person who cringes at bad grammar, I have had to learn to live with a certain amount of cringing. Shockingly, not only do people NOT love me or appreciate it when I correct what I see as bad grammar, they also (correctly) tell me I am missing the forest for the trees. My own history, which I do remember and do not want to repeat, has taught me not to be a nit-picking, know-it-all stickler… but it’s not easy!

  2. So I took your advice and searched again. I still don’t find any reference to a primary document, which is surely the only thing that could resolve the question one way or the other. The question was posed to The National Churchill Museum, which claimed it could not find any such quote in Churchill’s works. ( see query November 16, 2012). I am at least relieved to find my search skills no worse than some Churchill specialists.

    • Oblio– copy and paste the entire quote in google. It is a very easy way to find information about a specific quote. Jackie is absolutely correct … And so is George…. And so are you — there are 3 sides to every coin, you know.. The problem here is that you criticized the paper without knowing all the facts.

Comments are closed.