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Oak Bluffs plaque honoring Confederate soldiers to be moved to Martha’s Vineyard Museum

A women visiting Martha’s Vineyard paused to view the Civil War statue in Oak Bluffs.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/File 2019/Globe Staff

The Oak Bluffs Board of Selectmen voted unanimously Tuesday to move a plaque that honored Confederate soldiers into the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.

The plaque was added in 1925 to a statue honoring Union soldiers that was originally erected in 1892 by Charles Strahan, who fought for the Confederacy, Bow Van Riper, research librarian at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum said in an interview with the Globe.

Another plaque, which mentions the one that honors Confederate soldiers, will also be moved, Van Riper said.

The bid to move the plaque was spearheaded by the Martha’s Vineyard NAACP, Carrie Tankard, vice president of the organization, said while addressing the board.


“To not decide is to decide,” Tankard said in a video of the meeting available online.

During the meeting, community members voiced their support for moving the plaque.

One resident, Jocelyn Coleman Walton, urged the board to consider marginalized communities while voting.

“Think about how this affects all of our African-American, our Wampanoag, our people of color who know that the chasm has not closed,” she said, alluding to the text of the plaque, which opens “the chasm is closed.”

“The chasm has never closed for me,” she said.

David Vanderhoop, a member of the Tribe of Aquinnah and director of Sassafras Earth Education, also spoke in favor of moving the statue.

“I’d like to see a different memorial — one that represents all people and that honors Wampanoag people and people of color for their resilience,” he said.

William McLaurin, a summer resident of Oak Bluffs, said he feels committed to the town, but would return to Cambridge if he “felt in any way that the people here in Oak Bluffs would be Confederate sympathizers.”

“Please, do not let us down,” he said.

Dick Cohen, a member of the Social Action Committee of the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center, called attention to records he said show that no former slaves or African-Americans were ever involved in the placement of the plaque.


“Mr. Charles Strahan may have, in good faith, thought or wished that the chasm was closed and felt the need to honor his fellow Confederate soldiers,” he said. “In reality, the chasm and the racism that gave rise to the Civil War was very much alive in 1891 and 1925.”

The vote followed a heated and emotional debate about what to do with the plaques, Van Riper said. He said he was shocked that no one spoke against moving them during Tuesday’s meeting.

“I’m at a total loss of how that came to be,” he said.

Van Riper said the board made the best decision it could have. The plaques will now be placed in their proper context where the story can be told “more completely,” he said.

“I think that’s a huge win for the people of Oak Bluffs,” he said.

Andrew Stanton can be reached at andrew.stanton@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @_andrewstanton.