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The historical marker for a Concord-born Communist is gone. But questions remain about the state's process.

Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Commissioner Sarah Stewart and members of the Executive Council during a meeting Wednesday.
Josh Rogers
Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Commissioner Sarah Stewart and members of the Executive Council during a meeting Wednesday, May 17, 2023.

Members of the state panel that helps to review historical markers say they weren’t formally consulted before the state took down a sign this week noting the Concord birthplace of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a labor rights activist and Communist Party leader.

But Gov. Chris Sununu reiterated Wednesday that all formal policies were followed when the green sign was pulled down, just two weeks after it was first unveiled by the state.

New Hampshire’s historical highway marker policies, as published on the state’s website, says the State Historical Resources Council should review new markers, as well as requests to revise or retire existing ones. But James Garvin, who sits on the council, says that didn’t happen in the removal of the Flynn marker. He says he thinks the state moved too quickly to take down the sign.

“I am sorry that we were not,” Garvin said. “I think that this is a subject that was done in haste and did, in fact, not follow the procedures that were adopted.”

picture of the new historical marker
Zoey Knox
Gurley Flynn, who would become head of the Communist Party in the United States, was born in Concord in 1890.

Another member of the commission also said they were not consulted on the decision to remove the sign.

The council’s most recent meeting was May 1, the same day the Flynn sign was installed on a street corner near downtown Concord. It was taken down Monday, following outcry from New Hampshire Republicans.

Flynn, who was born in Concord in 1890, was a leading labor organizer and vocal supporter of access to birth control. She later joined — and for a period led — the country’s Communist Party. She died while visiting the Soviet Union in 1964.

Soon after the sign went up, Republican politicians called for its removal — citing Flynn’s political beliefs — and for a reevaluation of the state's historical marker process.

Last Friday, with no fanfare, the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources updated its policies, giving the commissioner final authority over the nomination of markers. However, the policies on marker removal still suggest the advisory council plays a role.

When asked by reporters about the removal of the sign, Sununu said the authority rested in the hands of the current commissioner of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Sarah Stewart.

Sununu described the previous guidelines for the nomination of historical markers as having “a lot of gray area” in who had final approval over the signs. Under the new rules for nominating a sign, he said it's clear.

“That's the policy,” said Sununu. “The commissioner has the authority there.”

For now, the sign remains in the possession of the state Department of Transportation. Asked about its fate during an Executive Council meeting Wednesday, a representative for the transportation department said they would consult with other agencies.

Olivia joins us from WLVR/Lehigh Valley Public Media, where she covered the Easton area in eastern Pennsylvania. She has also reported for WUWM in Milwaukee and WBEZ in Chicago.
Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
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