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NH removes historical marker for Concord-born labor activist, Communist Party leader

picture of the new historical marker
Zoey Knox
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, who would become head of the Communist Party in the United States, was born in Concord in 1890.

State officials have removed a historical marker detailing the life of a noted labor organizer and Communist, two weeks after it was unveiled, overriding concerns from those who argued against sanitizing the state’s history.

The move comes as the state has, in recent days, quietly revised its policy for such markers in the wake of Republican pushback over the subject of the sign in Concord.

The marker chronicling the life of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn went public in Concord on May 1, placed at an intersection near her birthplace.

Flynn was born in New Hampshire’s capital city in 1890 and later became known as the “Rebel Girl” for her role as a leading labor organizer and vocal supporter of access to birth control. She later joined — and for a period led — the country’s Communist Party.

She died while visiting the Soviet Union in 1964; her obituaryappeared on the front page of the New York Times.

Soon after the sign went up, Republican politicians called for its removal, given Flynn’s ties to communism, and for a reevaluation of the historical marker process. Gov. Chris Sununu also joined the fray, calling on the city of Concord to remove the sign. City officials said it wasn’t theirs to remove, since the state installed it.

Earlier coverage: After advancing historic marker for Concord-born activist, state offers to remove it

“We appreciate the City of Concord letting us know that the historical marker was located on State Property and the City takes no position on the marker’s removal,” Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Commissioner Sarah Stewart said in a Monday email. “As this is not City property as we understood it to be, the marker has been removed in consultation with the Governor.”

According to the state’s policies for the historical highway marker program, which were revised on Friday, the “purpose in erecting markers is to educate the public about New Hampshire’s history, not to honor, memorialize, or commemorate persons, events, or places."

"Because Historical Highway Markers are not honorific in nature," the policy continues, "they do not serve the same purpose as monuments, statues, memorial plaques, or war memorials.”

The sign was initiated by a group of residents including Arnie Alpert and Mary Lee Sargent, both of whom have been involved in local labor activism.

On Monday, Alpert said he was “distressed” by the sign’s removal and that he believes the state didn’t follow its own protocols for removing signs.

“We continue to believe, in the words the [Division of Historical Resources] uses to describe the program’s purpose, that Elizabeth Gurley Flynn had a significant impact on her times and that her significance has been amply established by historians,” Alpert said.

The New Hampshire Historical Highway Marker Program Policy outlines several ways to initiate the “revision, removal, or retirement” of a marker. It’s not clear which provision the state relied on to remove Flynn’s sign.

Any New Hampshire resident can request a review of a sign “for revision or retirement,” according to the state policy. If a member of the Division of Historical Resources suggests retiring a marker, the policy says that suggestion should be “discussed and recorded” at a meeting of the State Historical Resources Council.

“Upon [Division of Historical Resources] staff recommendation of retirement, the Commissioner shall determine whether a Historical Marker shall be removed and shall work in coordination with the Department of Transportation to have the Marker removed and retired,” the policy states.

The policy also says the state can retire historical markers if they contain factual errors “that can be documented with reliable sources,” if they “are so damaged, deteriorated, illegible, unstable, or unsafe that the cost of repair would approach the cost of a new marker,” or if they “require refurbishment and have very brief texts, and lack historical context, such that their educational value is severely limited.”

The state did not immediately respond to a request for comment on if the sign will be destroyed or remain in storage.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University. He can be reached at tbookman@nhpr.org.

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