If Gov. Chris Sununu wants to do something about the Historical Highway Marker honoring notorious Communist Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, he is free to do it himself, according to the Concord City Council.
Concord Mayor James Bouley said Monday night he was confused by the letter he got last week from Sarah Stewart, commissioner for the New Hampshire Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, asking the city to request that the state remove the Flynn marker.
“We did not approve any marker, we don’t have that authority; we don’t approve the marker’s text, we don’t have that authority; and lastly, we can’t remove something that is not our responsibility from your property,” Bouley said.
The Flynn marker angered Republican members of the state’s Executive Council, prompting Sununu to blame Concord leadership and demand that it be removed.
“Why Concord would want to put this in the first place, God knows,” Sununu said Friday on WGIR radio. “Just tell us to take it down, and we’ll take it down. I’d love to take it down.”
The problem for Sununu — or perhaps the solution — is that the marker is the state’s responsibility from beginning to end, according to Concord City Attorney James Kennedy. He said the marker was placed in the city by the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources and sits on state land. The marker features text about Flynn’s life and Communist affiliation that was approved by the state and additionally includes a seal of the State of New Hampshire. The fact that now Sununu and Stewart are asking the city to request its removal makes little sense, Kennedy said.
“That’s a curious concept to me,” Kennedy said.
According to Kennedy, if the state wants to remove the marker, it is free to follow the state law governing that process.
Executive Councilor Janet Stevens (R-Rye) also places the responsibility at the feet of state government.
“The disgraceful placement of a historic highway marker in Concord, honoring Communist Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a devout Stalinist and prominent organizer in the Communist Party, has elevated the need for an overhaul of the process for awarding historic markers in our state,” Stevens said in an editorial for NHJournal.
“There was a clear lack of common sense in allowing this new marker to be approved,” Steven added.
The state did seek Concord’s approval to install the sign, which went up on May 1. But Bouley and the councilors said that was a courtesy and had more to do with checking traffic visibility and general construction safety. That has not stopped Sununu from hammering Concord over the state marker.
“I don’t think it should ever have been put up; I don’t think Concord should have been advocating for it,” Sununu said.
According to available public records, the City of Concord never advocated for the Flynn marker. Liberal activists Arnie Alpert and Mary Lee Sargent petitioned the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources for the Flynn maker based on her historical significance. Flynn was an early labor activist, a civil rights pioneer, and a supporter of women’s access to birth control as well as the head of the Communist Party in America.
Flynn was kicked out of the ACLU, which she helped found, because of her membership in the Community Party. She joined in 1936, three years after the USSR murdered close to 9 million people in a genocidal famine known as the Holodomor, and was about to start killing millions more. When she died in 1964, Flynn received a state funeral in Moscow’s Red Square with 25,000 people attending.
While Sununu has blamed Concord for the whole mess, and Stewart has claimed her department had no input in the text, records obtained Monday by NHJournal show otherwise. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources employee Amy Dixon worked on researching and editing the proposed text for the Flynn marker, even adding that Flynn was a supporter of women’s suffrage. Dixon then presented the marker proposal to Concord officials and explained all expenses would be the state’s responsibility.
Kennedy said that under U.S. Supreme Court rulings protecting the First Amendment, cities are unable to regulate the content of signs put up in their jurisdictions.
City Councilor Amanda Grady Sexton said if the state is upset about the sign, it can take it down anytime. “If the state wants to remove the sign, they can do so.”
City Councilor Zandra Rice Hawkins suggested Concord may still put up its own marker to commemorate Flynn, in which case the state would be actually powerless as opposed to engaging in the current game of blame-shifting.
“I’d be disappointed if the state removed the marker and tried to whitewash history,” Hawkins said.