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NH activists are considering legal action over ‘Rebel Girl’ historical marker removal

 Six posters and sit next to a street sign post. They read LtoR: "Learn Free or Die! Don't erase The Rebel Girl!"
Olivia Richardson
Signs stand where the Elizabeth Gurley Flynn marker once stood on the intersection of Montgomery and Court Streets in Concord. Signs read "Learn Free or Die! You can not erase The Rebel Girl!" and "DON'T FEAR The Rebel Girl, learn her story."

Some local activists are considering legal action over the state’s removal of a short-lived historical marker detailing the life of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a New Hampshire-born labor organizer and Communist Party leader.

The state installed the marker in Concord on May 1 but removed it two weeks later, after Republican officials expressed concern over Flynn’s ties to communism.

Arnie Alpert and Mary Lee Sargent petitioned the state to put up the marker. Now, they are formally asking the state to reinstall it. At the very least, Alpert said, they want to make sure it’s not destroyed or sent out of state.

“We believe the integrity should be protected because we believe it should be reinstalled, right where they took it from,” Alpert said.

On May 22, Alpert said he and Sargent hand-delivered a letter outlining these requests to the commissioners of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation and Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. As of June 7, they haven’t received a response.

The Department of Natural and Cultural Resources did not respond to multiple requests for comment. A spokesperson for the Department of Transportation said the marker is currently located at one of their offices but did not comment on the substance of the letter otherwise.

In their effort to reinstate the marker, the activists have enlisted legal help from Andru Volinsky, an attorney and former Democratic executive councilor.

In an interview with NHPR, Volinsky said Alpert and Sargent are doing what they can to reach an agreement with the state and that they haven’t filed any lawsuit at this time.

“They're trying to communicate with the state. So far, there's been no response,” Volinsky said. “The state is really being disrespectful in that regard. But they're giving the state every chance to resolve this through negotiations and communications and to try and find a mutual solution.”

If a lawsuit is filed, Volinsky said they’re looking at whether the state bypassed any policies when removing the marker, potentially in violation of New Hampshire’s Administrative Procedures Act.

“In this case, there were rules and policies for historical markers both erecting and removing them,” Volinsky said. “It seems as though the rules to erect the marker were followed and then some people issued an edict and it was removed without following the rules. So there are ways to enforce those rules through the court system.”

Members of the state panel that helps to review historical markers previously told NHPR they weren’t formally consulted about the marker’s removal.

James Garvin, who sits on the State Historical Resources Council, said in an interview he thought the state moved too quickly to take down the sign.

Gov. Chris Sununu said last month that all formal policies were followed, and the commissioner of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources was empowered to authorize the removal.

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

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.
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