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‘Long Live the Revolution!’ Activists Keep Legal Fight Over Rebel Girl Marker Alive

Historical figures of New Hampshire, unite! You have nothing to lose but your state-funded highway markers.

The sponsors of a since-removed Historical Highway Marker honoring Concord-born Communist Elizabeth Gurley Flynn are appealing the dismissal of their lawsuit against the state. They argue no person from the Granite State’s past is safe from having their legacy erased from the public record — a common practice in Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union.

Attorney Andru Volisnky says Merrimack Superior Court Judge John Kissinger was wrong when he ruled against left-wing activists Arnold Alpert and Mary Lee Sargent, who supported the effort to have the state honor Flynn. Volinsky warned Kissinger’s ruling opens the door for anyone having their marker removed arbitrarily by the state.

“The court’s ruling protects the decision to remove the marker no matter the reason,” Volinsky wrote in his motion for reconsideration. “All removal decisions are protected from review by the court’s ruling on standing. No one could challenge a similar decision to remove a marker because the subject of the marker was a Republican or Democrat, woman, LGBTQIA, Black, Brown, Asian, or any other factor an executive councilor or a governor deems objectionable.”

The state removed the marker honoring Flynn last May, weeks after it was posted by the state’s Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. When more details about Flynn’s background became public — like her lifelong support for Soviet Communism and her state funeral in Moscow’s Red Square — several members of state government, including Gov. Chris Sununu, called for the marker to be removed.

Alpert and Sargent worked for months to collect signatures as part of the process to get the marker approved and installed. They filed the lawsuit challenging the subsequent removal, claiming the state did not follow its own procedures.

“The purpose of the marker program is educating the public about places, events, and people of historical significance, a category which certainly includes Elizabeth Gurley Flynn,” Sargent said. “There is no provision in statute or in the rules governing the marker program that says established markers can be removed based on ideological rather than historical grounds.” 

Kissinger’s March 20 dismissal, however, found neither Alpert nor Sargent have the legal right to challenge a decision that belongs to the state. The marker’s creation and installation was paid for by the DNCR, and it was installed on state-owned property in Concord.

“While no one disputes the time and effort expended by the plaintiffs in relation to the Flynn marker, the court finds no support for a determination that such efforts give rise to a legal right, interest, or privilege protected by law,” Kissinger wrote.

Flynn, a labor activist, women’s rights pioneer, and founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, was born in Concord in 1890. She joined the Communist Party in 1936, a time when many Americans were abandoning it in response to Stalin’s purges. Flynn remained an unapologetic Stalinist, and as a result was kicked out of the ACLU in the 1940s.

Flynn was convicted in 1951 under the Smith Act for supporting a Communist revolution in the United States. She would eventually go on to lead the Communist Party USA. In 1964, she died while in Russia. An estimated 25,000 people attended her funeral in Red Square.

NH State Website Still Touts Historic Marker Honoring Communist Leader

The “Rebel Girl” is still causing headaches for the Sununu administration a week after the governor said he wanted the state Historical Highway Marker honoring Communist Elizabeth Hurley Flynn removed.

Despite the governor’s complaints, his own New Hampshire Department of Cultural and Natural Resources continues to tout the marker for Flynn, the former head of the American Communist Party, on its website.

“The N.H. Division of Historical Resources is pleased to announce that a New Hampshire Historical Highway Marker honoring Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a well-known labor, women’s rights, and civil liberties activist, has been installed at the corner of Court and Montgomery Streets in downtown Concord, near the site of her birthplace,” reads the press release, which was still online as of Wednesday.

The message on a state-run website adds more weight to the case made by the City of Concord that the marker is a state, not municipal, matter.

Sununu has blamed the marker’s placement on Concord city officials, claiming he wants the marker removed but must wait for the city to act.

“Why Concord would want to put this in the first place, God knows,” Sununu said last week. “Just tell us to take it down, we’ll take it down. I’d love to take it down.”

After Executive Councilors saw red when they learned about the marker for Flynn — who Sununu and other state officials have called anti-American — Sarah Stewart, commissioner for the New Hampshire Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, took less than decisive action. Stewart sent a letter to Concord Mayor James Bouley asking him to ask the state to have the marker removed.

The problem for Stewart, Sununu, and all other anti-Communists in the Granite State is that the city has no control over the 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,” Bouley said this week.

The marker is part of a state program, paid for with state funds, and placed on state property. Or, as the state’s press release says, “The New Hampshire Historical Highway Marker program is jointly managed by the N.H. Division of Historical Resources and N.H. Department of Transportation.”

There is a legal way to remove a Historical Highway Marker, which is covered under state law.

Flynn was born in Concord and moved to New York with her family as a child. She became a leading labor and civil rights activist before joining the Communist Party. In fact, Flynn was kicked out of the ACLU, which she helped found, because of her membership in the Community Party during the Stalin regime.

Flynn became a Communist 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 Soviet Russia in Moscow’s Red Square with 25,000 people attending.