Civil War plaques are on display

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The two plaques honoring Confederate soldiers, removed from a statue in Oak Bluffs, can now be found in their new home at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.

In May, Oak Bluffs selectmen voted to remove the plaques after the Island’s chapter of the NAACP made the request. The board held several meetings and a public forum about the messages contained on the plaques. The plaques were donated to the museum where their history could be better explained. 

The two plaques have a long history in town that stretches back to the 1920s. Both plaques belonged to the Soldiers’ Memorial monument that was erected in honor of the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization for Union veterans that ended in 1956. The monument now belongs to the town.

The first plaque 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.

Charles Strahan, a publisher of the Martha’s Vineyard Herald and a Confederate veteran, erected the statue of the Union soldier in 1891 as “a gesture of conciliation,” according to the plaque. The plaque honoring the Confederates was put up in 1925.

The statue was once commonly referred to as the only Civil War memorial in the North that depicts a Confederate soldier, and was even painted gray at one point. But in 2001, the statue was rededicated, and the gray paint was removed to avoid confusion.

On Friday, museum staff drilled the plaques onto the wall in Doherty Hall, the museum’s large barn. Below the plaques is a temporary panel explaining the history of the plaques and why they were removed. Museum staff, working with representatives from the NAACP and the Island’s veterans’ organizations, plan to replace the panel with an interactive touchscreen to explain the plaques in depth. Oak Bluffs also plans to put together a Civil War statue educational information committee consisting of an NAACP member, a veteran, a Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) tribal member, a selectman, a museum employee, and potentially a student from the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

“The Soldiers’ Memorial has a complex history and multiple meanings. Thank you for your patience while we create interpretive materials that fully capture them,” the temporary panel states.

  • I visited the museum this week with my daughter, a current Army soldier, and she was so disappointed by this because she felt that people placing their current sensitivities higher as a priority than the mortal sacrifices of soldiers was a bit narcissistic. I’m sure people in the NorthEast felt really left out without confederate statues to tear down but intolerance toward messages of reconciliation and the censorship of expressions of healing is a really regressive sort of progressive thought. Not unheard of on the Vineyard though, one only needs to go to Texas and see the amount of windmills and solar there to realize liberalism on the Vineyard is about form rather than substance.

    • My impression was problem with the plaques was they were an agreement by white folk that there were no ill feelings between the sides. This ignores the people of color. What of those who were enslaved and their descendants who’ve been subjected to discrimination, did anyone ask them how they felt? Do they matter?

    • In the same way we don’t honor kamikaze pilots who gave their lives or SS soldiers who gave their lives we don’t honor those who gave their lives trying to destroy our country.This is not about “current sensitivities” this is about who we honor and why. Should we put a plaque at Pearl Harbor honoring those who gave their lives sinking the USS Arizona?

      • I take your point and no one’s more anti-slavery than I am. Probably not right at the Arizona no, but then the battle of Ocean Park wasn’t too bloody. Do I admire the courage and feel for the sacrifices of Kamikaze pilots? Yes. We have realized it was wrong to blame Vietnam vets for the Vietnam war, and we honor Iraq vets even though that war was a disaster and probably a crime – for the same reason we only prosecuted the topmost officers at Nuremburg; because we realize soldiers don’t make the policy, they pay with their lives when policymakers fail. Happen to be born in the South you get drafted and killed for the South. Doesn’t make a Northern draftee any more enlightened. The extension of sympathy to the vanquished is practical as well as idealistic, it’s why rubbing the German’s noses in WWI got us WWII and feeding the Germans after WWII got us modern Europe. What makes me sad is a monument like this one seems to have been built by an America more capable of nuance and reconciliation than the one which took it down.

        • It must be nice to be so white and so privileged and so non-Jewish to have this point of view about traitors– and about those soldiers who went along with and fought for the systematic murder of 6 million innocent, non-soldier, Jews. You’d better check your history if you think the plaques were about nuanced anything.

        • Did anyone ask people of color if they reconciled with that they were slaves? Seems a huge nuance to me.

        • ” it’s why rubbing the German’s noses in WWI got us WWII.” You mean it wasn’t an attack by the Japanese?

          “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan….I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire. ” FDR

          • Wilson arrived for the Paris talks in a generous mood, the Allies swayed him to be less tolerant toward Germany, reparations were harsh. The economic results is considered by maybe to have fostered Germany’s ill will. Also, Germans thought they got suckered by the accord.

            Japan declared war on the US Dec 7, US reciprocated Dec 8.
            Germany declared war on the US Dec 11, US reciprocates (same day?).

    • Speaking of going to Texas, I was there recently and could not help but notice the three tremendous confederate monuments in front of their capitol building. They did not convey a message of reconciliation or healing, they repeated lies about the nature of the conflict, idolize Jefferson Davis, and lionize the confederate dead as heroes. I don’t know what’s wrong with your daughter, but the soldiers fighting for the south were traitors not heroes, and their “mortal sacrifices” were for an evil cause. Efforts to white wash these facts date to the first half of the twentieth century, and are obviously fabrications.

      • As a USMC veteran and from Mississippi, well said! They were traitors in 1861 and they are traitors today. They tried to destroy the nation then and are continuing that effort today.

      • I’m all for taking down confederate monuments, just not for blaming the soldiers who committed the crime of having been born and drafted in one section of the country, which you seem to think makes them somehow inferior as humans to soldiers who happen to have been born and drafted in a different part of the country. As I said above, soldiers aren’t policymakers, they’re the people who pay with their lives when policymakers fail. To blame them all is no different than blaming Vietnam vets for the Vietnam war or Iraq vets for Bush’s disaster. It’s childlike in its simplicity, which I understand makes it compact and easy to think about, but we’re supposed to be adults capable of both complex thought and of reconciliation. Censoring messages of sympathy and reconciliation is ugly.

        • Dan Cooper, it is not a message of sympathy and reconciliation when that so-called sympathy does not take into account all the people, slaves, that the two sides were fighting about. One side, the USA, is our country. The other side, the Confederate State of America, did not want to be part of our country. They were traitors to this country. The only censoring is in these plaques, for ignoring history and trying to rewrite our nation’s enemies, the Confederacy, traitors to our country, into somehow becoming benign friends to slaves and their descendents. I don’t understand why removing the plaques to the museum is not good enough. All soldiers are human beings, even Nazis. We don’t have to honor any of our enemies on publc property, least of all, those who were traitors to our nation.

  • I was a summer kid long before I somehow got a job at EPD. I retired in 2010 (everyone tried telling what to do) after serving 15-years as Chief of Police. Charlottesville. Those interfering with the history of a statue painted gray. Enough. 1925 statues erected the south should not be confused with ours. My great-grandfather was a Boston cop…after he returned home after suffering the horrors of the Civil War. GAR patriot. The correspondence he sent home as an 18-year-old to his mother…a family treasure. Postmarked Port Royal, South Carolina. Dissembling a monument…? My Monument. Sad. A kid from Port Royal will never experience my experience…

  • **I was just told that the Barn they put it is is in the back building and you really have to look for it.
    Also the proper committee that was suppose to be formed as part of the deal was not .
    Putting it in a Barn out of the way, it is like AOC saying the illegals at the border are being made to drink out of the toilet!
    So this is not over yet! The whole thing was improperly handled and in my opinion is now making the whole matter worst**!

  • Keep the comments to Martha’s Vineyard. I’m reading Around the World in 80 Days problems. What happened in Oak Bluffs… should stay on Martha’s Vineyard. When I retired, I finally could express my own opinions. This is one. There are two sides to a story. As a police chief, any decision I made was wrong to somebody. I hate the division exploding today inside the DC Beltway. The creation of neglect. Not Trump. Shouldn’t have happened. The Cops program developed under President Clinton was working…the effects of September 11th eroded that focus. I was appointed Chief in 1995. An officer didn’t like a decision I made. So, he said I was a racist and sued. I was unjustly labeled. He tried cashing in and lost. The weight of that label today? It could apply to everyone.