Fallout from the state’s historic marker honoring a notorious Communist continues as the Sununu administration invites Concord to remove the monument, and the city insists it never requested the placard in the first place.
“If the City Council objected to the placement of the marker on city property, the application would have been denied,” New Hampshire Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Commissioner Sarah Stewart wrote to Concord’s mayor Thursday.
“It’s their sign, not ours,” Ward 3 Concord City Councilor Jennifer Kretovic told NHJournal. “And if they want to say differently, they can go pound sand.”
The controversy began in Wednesday’s Governor’s Council meeting when Executive Councilors Dave Wheeler and Joe Kenney raised questions about the marker, unveiled on May Day, honoring Concord native Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. Flynn was an unapologetic Stalinist who joined the Communist Party during the purges, led the CPUSA during the Cold War, and received a state funeral in Red Square from a grateful Soviet Union.
Flynn’s marker took members of the Executive Council by surprise this week, unhappy the state is seemingly celebrating an anti-American Communist. Gov. Chris Sununu promised to investigate how the sign got approved and the possibility of getting it removed.
Stewart, who oversees the Division of Historical Resources (DHR), told NHJournal she “never reviewed this request. The process that is in place doesn’t include an approval from me. This is something I am discussing with the governor.”
On Wednesday, she told the executive councilors her office was not responsible for the marker, stating the application came from the City of Concord.
“Our agency is not in the business of approving or denying the markers,” Stewart said. “We check for factual accuracy, and we help make sure that the text fits on the space allocated on the marker.”
But Tony Schinella at The Patch reported Thursday morning that “the request for the marker was made to the Concord City Council by a state employee — Amy Dixon, a community preservation coordinator in Stewart’s department, on Sept. 12, 2022.”
“According to the timeline of records by the city, the council approved forwarding the request at its October 2022 meeting to the city’s Heritage Commission,” The Patch reported.
A few hours after the report was published, Stewart released a letter to the city of Concord urging them to request that the Flynn marker be taken down.
“I am reaching out to inform the City of the opportunity to reevaluate your approval of this marker,” Stewart wrote to Concord Mayor James Bouley. Her letter squarely places the blame for the Flynn marker on Concord officials.
“There was a public hearing conducted by the Concord Heritage Commission, and then (the marker) was approved at a Concord City Council meeting,” Stewart wrote. “If the City Council objected to the placement of the marker on city property, the application would have been denied.”
But city records show that application for the Flynn marker was brought into the city by DHR’s Amy Dixon, a community preservation specialist.
“The New Hampshire Historical Highway Marker Program is respectfully requesting City Council approval to install Marker #278, which honors former Concord resident Elizabeth Gurley Flynn for her accomplishments in leading America’s early 20th-century labor movement and for her support of civil liberties and women’s rights,” Dixon wrote in a September letter to the City Council.
Dixon assured the Council the state would pick up the costs of the marker.
“The City would be under no financial obligation. We only seek City Council approval for its location, which is proposed near the southeast corner of Court and Montgomery streets near the county courthouse,” Dixon wrote to Concord officials.
Kretovic told NHJournal Stewart’s version of events is simply not true. While Concord did approve the marker, that process was merely a formality, she said. The state controls the whole process from start to finish, she said.
“It’s a courtesy that the state reaches out to the city and says, ‘Hey, we’re putting a sign in your city,’” Kretovic said. “We don’t bless that wording; we have nothing to do with that,” Kretovic said.
Arnie Alpert, a retired liberal activist, and Mary Lee Sargent, another left-learning activist, got the original ball rolling by sending DHR an application for Flynn’s marker. Alpert told NHJournal Flynn deserves to be recognized for her trailblazing work as a labor activist, civil rights leader, and feminist.
“Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was a significant figure in American history,” Alpert said.
Alpert and Sargent’s application included signatures from 30 residents and proposed wording for the marker. Their text appears unchanged on the sign that went up on May 1. Dixon took that application and text to Concord and walked it through the process to get the city’s approval.
Kretovic said it is important that the marker recognizes Flynn’s membership in the Communist Party and her conviction in 1951 for fomenting the violent overthrow of the government. Kretovic would have preferred if the state included an option for people to learn more about Flynn and Communism, such as a QR code people could scan into their phones for relevant factual links.
Flynn was born in 1890 in Concord and became a socialist activist in her teens. She was a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union and, in 1936, joined the Community Party, becoming the U.S. Party Chair in 1961.
Her decision to join the Communist Party during the period of Josef Stalin’s deadly purge and high-profile show trials is particularly disturbing. In fact, her membership in the party got her expelled from the ACLU in 1940. A decade later, she was found guilty under the Smith Act of advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government by force and violence. The Soviet government gave Flynn a state funeral in Red Square, with more than 25,000 people attending.
When Flynn joined the Communist Party in 1936, the Soviets had already murdered close to 9 million people in Ukraine and other territories in what is now known as the Holodomor. Another 1.2 million were about to be killed in Stalin’s great purge.
If the Sununu administration or the City of Concord does not act, the New Hampshire legislature is standing by.
“If the department does not remove this sign, I will sponsor legislation to do so,” said Rep. Ross Berry (R-Manchester). “We don’t honor Communists in New Hampshire.”