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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.

Court Says Supporters of ‘Rebel Girl’ Marker Lack Standing, Tosses Lawsuit

The left-wing activists who got the state to install a historical marker honoring Concord-born Communist Elizabeth Guerly Flynn don’t have the legal right to challenge the marker’s removal, Merrimack Superior Court Judge John Kissinger ruled.

On Wednesday, Kissinger dismissed the suit filed by outspoken progressives Arnold Alpert and Mary Lee Sargent against the state, ruling they lack the legal standing necessary to bring their lawsuit.

“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.

Alpert said he’s mulling an appeal of Kissinger’s dismissal.

“We’re reviewing the court order and considering next steps. I believe we have 10 days to file for reconsideration if we so choose,” Alpert said.

Alpert and Sargent’s attorney, Andru Volinsky, did not respond to a request for comment.

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn

The Historic Highways marker for Flynn was removed after state officials, including Executive Councilor Joe Kenney (R-District 1) and Gov. Chris Sununu, learned Flynn was an unrepentant Stalinist who led the Communist Party USA during the height of the Cold War. At one point, she was convicted of advocating the violent overthrow of the U.S. government.

Flynn was such a strong supporter of the Soviet Union that she received the rare honor of a Red Square funeral.

The monument was removed from its Concord location on May 15, less than two weeks after it was unveiled.

Volinsky tried to claim in court that Sununu illegally ordered the marker removed. But Kissinger wrote that the governor’s involvement was immaterial.

The marker was created and installed using state resources, and its removal was a decision made by state employees, according to Kissinger’s ruling. Because Alpert and Sargent have no right under any New Hampshire law to challenge the marker’s removal, whoever made the decision is not important, he wrote.

The marker was unveiled on May 1, May Day, and the state’s Department of Natural and Cultural Resources promoted Flynn’s tribute. That did not sit well with Kenney, who complained at the May 3 Executive Council meeting. At that meeting and in the ensuing days, Sununu promised to do something about the marker.

The Department of Natural and Cultural Resources changed the rules for removing historical highway markers after that May 3 meeting, allowing for the removal of markers that could be deemed inappropriate. However, according to the lawsuit, the new rules still required that the decision go to the Historical Resources Council.

According to the lawsuit, Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Commissioner Sarah Stewart ignored the rules and ordered the marker taken down on May 12.

The marker was removed on May 15 and is currently in the possession of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.

Flynn was a labor activist and an early feminist and helped found the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU would later oust her over her embrace of Soviet-style Communism.