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Goodbye Rebel Girl! Concord’s Communist Marker Removed

The historic marker in Concord commemorating unrepentant Communist Elizabeth Gurley Flynn got sent to the ash heap of history as the Sununu administration finally stepped up and removed it from state property.

Now the progressive activists who pushed for the marker are complaining about its removal.

The New Hampshire Historical Highway Marker was unveiled on May 1 (May Day). It celebrated Concord-born Gurley Flynn as an early labor activist, a civil rights pioneer, a supporter of women’s access to birth control, and the former head of the Communist Party in America (CPUSA).

Gov. Chris Sununu first promised to get the marker removed after learning about it from irate executive councilors Joe Kenney (R-District 1) and Dave Wheeler (R-District 5) during a Governor’s Council meeting two days later.

“This is a devout communist. We are the ‘Live Free or Die’ state,” Kenney said. “How can we possibly promote her propaganda, which still exists now through this sign in downtown Concord?”

Sununu, however, did not immediately take the marker down. Instead, he and his administration blamed Concord city officials for the marker’s placement.

“Why Concord would want to put this in the first place, God knows,” Sununu said on Good Morning NH with Jack Health. “Just tell us to take it down we’ll take it down. I’d love to take it down.”

However, Concord City Attorney James Kennedy responded, making it clear in a letter to Department of Cultural and Natural Resources Commissioner Sarah Stewart that the state could do whatever it wanted with the marker it installed.

“To the extent that the State seeks removal of (the Flynn marker) a marker that it approved (title and text) created and installed, bearing the State seal and located on State property, the City takes no position on this issue,” Kennedy wrote.

On Monday, the Gurley Flynn monument was gone.

“Through their public statements, the City of Concord made clear they were not advocating to keep the marker up,” Ben Vihstadt, Sununu’s spokesman, said Monday. “In their communications with the state, it was learned that the marker was located on state property, not city property as previously believed, and therefore the marker was removed this morning.”

Far-left supporters of the marker and Flynn’s legacy cried foul.

“The policies of the Division of Historical Resources specify the conditions under which markers can be retired,” said Arnie Alpert, who, with Mary Lee Sargent, initiated the proposal for the Flynn marker. “Even under the policy’s latest revision, there is no provision for markers to be retired because of objections to their content.”

The pair continue to defend the marker saying Flynn is a historically significant person born in New Hampshire and should be recognized. “We still say that under the department’s own guidelines, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn’s birthplace in Concord is a fitting location for a historical marker,” Sargent said.

Flynn was an outspoken member of the American left who helped found the American Civil Liberties Union, which she was later kicked out of because she chose to join the Communist Party. In fact, Flynn joined in 1936, during the infamous purges under Soviet leader Josef Stalin that drove many other Westerners out of the party.

Flynn made no apologies for her Communism. In a May 6, 1940 speech, Flynn praised the USSR.

“On May Day, we salute the Soviet Union, land of socialism, land of peace and plenty, the great ideal of labor since time immemorial, the cooperative commonwealth of all who toil,” Flynn said.

Flynn was convicted in 1951 for fomenting the overthrow of the United States, later became head of the Communist Party USA, and was given a state funeral in Moscow’s Red Square by a grateful Soviet Union when she died in 1964.

Alpert and Sargent continue to insist the marker should have remained and that Sununu lacked the authority to remove it as he did. They say that, under the state’s guidelines, markers are only removed if they are in disrepair or contain text with factual errors. The state also requires a public hearing before any marker is removed.

“None of the conditions for the marker’s removal have been met,” Alpert said. 

Vihstadt, however, said the state acted correctly in taking down the sign.

All policies and guidelines were followed in removing this controversial marker,” Vihstadt said.

Concord Officials To Sununu: Stop Pushing Your Marker Mess on Us

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.

State Puts Blame For Marker Honoring Concord Communist On City

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.”

Why Did NH Approve A Historic Marker Honoring A Concord Communist?

The Sununu administration approved a new Historical Highway Marker honoring a committed Communist from Concord who received a state funeral in Moscow’s Red Square. Now state officials are asking how it happened.

On Monday, May 1 — May Day for the international Socialist movement — the New Hampshire Department of Natural & Cultural Resources unveiled the marker honoring Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, who once led the Communist Party USA.

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.

Executive Councilor Dave Wheeler (R-Milford) brought up the marker during Wednesday’s Executive Council meeting, expressing his outrage that the state would approve a memorial to an enemy of the United States.

Wheeler said Flynn’s maker in Concord is an insult to every Granite Stater who ever served in the military, including the veteran who led the council’s Pledge of Allegiance before the meeting. “I’m just totally offended by that. I think it’s a slap in the face to the veteran who did our Pledge of Allegiance this morning,” Wheeler said.

Fellow Republican Joe Kenney also voiced his opposition.

“This is a devout Communist. We are the ‘Live Free or Die’ state,” Kenney said. “How can we possibly promote her propaganda, which still exists now through this sign in downtown Concord?”

Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington, the lone Democrat on the five-member committee, represents the city of Concord, whose Heritage Commission requested the marker. Warmington didn’t comment during the discussion. She also declined to respond to requests for comment from NHJournal.

Gov. Chris Sununu learned of the marker Wednesday morning and was not happy with what he heard during the Governor’s Council meeting.

“I completely agree with the sentiment here,” Sununu said, and he pledged to “dig into” how it happened. He also grilled Sarah Stewart, commissioner for the New Hampshire Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, whose agency oversees the historic marker program.

Stewart claimed her office wasn’t responsible for Flynn’s marker, telling the governor the application came through 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.”

Sununu was not satisfied with his commissioner’s answer.

“Who at the state level says ‘yes or no,’ regardless of what a town wants?” Sununu asked. “Who at the state level says, ‘We are going to do this, or we’re not going to do that?’”

“There is a criterion that is evaluated by the Division of Historical Resources staff and the State Historical Resources Council,” Stewart acknowledged.

“I’ll tell you what: We’re going to review the whole process,” Sununu said. “The state obviously has authority here, and responsibility — it’s a state marker.”

The state’s rules for the Historical Highway Marker program clearly give Stewart and her agency the power to vet applications and approve or deny them as she sees fit. The rules have been in effect since 1958.

“The DHR shall have the function, including but not limited to, ‘Considering proposals to erect highway historical markers under RSA 236:41. No such marker shall be put in place without division approval,’” the rules state.

Michael Bruno literally wrote the book on the state’s Historical Highway Markers. The author of “Cruising New Hampshire History,” Bruno told NHJournal he was disturbed by the state’s decision to remember Flynn.

“I’m a veteran, and I served in the Cold War,” Bruno said. “I don’t see why we’re commemorating this person.”

Most disappointing for Bruno is the fact that each Historical Highway Marker includes the state seal of New Hampshire. “It looks like an endorsement from the state,” he said.

Arnie Alpert

Arnie Alpert, a New Hampshire activist who was a leader in the left-leaning American Friends Service Committee, defended the marker and Flynn, though he said he couldn’t defend all of her choices.

“She was a significant figure in American history,” Alpert said.

Alpert said Flynn was visiting the Soviet Union in 1964 to work on her memoirs when she died. The state funeral with honors in Red Square can’t be held against her.

“She was dead; she didn’t order up any state funeral,” Alper said.

Alpert said that her 1951 conviction had more to do with the McCarthy-era anti-Communist witch hunts than any threats of violent revolution. Flynn was convicted for believing in Communism, not trying to overthrow the country, he said.

“If she was guilty of anything, she was guilty of her beliefs,” Alpert said.

Still, the timing of her Communist allegiance raises questions. When Smith joined 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. When she became the head of the American Communist Party, dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn was just a few years removed from serving a decade in the Soviet gulags and internal exile.

“I’m not here to defend every step in the life of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn,” Alpert said.

Flynn had no problem speaking for herself. In a May 6, 1940 speech, she praised the USSR.

“On May Day, we salute the Soviet Union – land of socialism – land of peace and plenty, the great ideal of labor since time immemorial, the cooperative commonwealth of all who toil,” Flynn said.