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.