The Civil War News & Views Open Discussion Forum

Martha's Vineyard

Of all of our country's Confederate monuments, the one in the Martha's Vineyard community of Oak Bluffs is perhaps the most unique. And until recently, even the SPLC didn;t know that Martha's Vineyard had a Confederate monument? Why? Because technically speaking, it is a Union monument. A Union monument with a Confederate plaque, installed at the foot of a statue of a Union soldier. So its listed in all the registeries as a Union monument. A monument that nobody was paying attention to until a black person vacationing on the island read the plaque and now the NAACP is demanding to take it down.

The story of how an ode to the Confederacy ended up so far North begins a few years after the WBTS when a man named Charles Strahan, who had fought for the Confederacy, decided to head north after the war in search of a fresh start in Massachusetts. After an apparently chilly reception from the Vineyard community, Strahan, then the owner of the
Martha's Vineyard Herald, raised money to build a seven-foot-tall statue of a northern soldier, dedicated to the local Union veterans. When it was erected in 1891, Strahan said he hoped the statue would be seen as a gesture of good will, and that one day his Union-allied neighbors could find it in their hearts to offer "more kindness" to his "old comrades" from the Confederacy and add a plaque to it in their honor-there were, as some might say, fine people on both sides.

It took more than 30 years to see Strahan's dream realized, but in 1925, it happened: A local Union veterans group agreed to add an inscription with some kind words for the Confederacy on the statue. And that's how Oak Bluffs ended up with a monument to Confederate soldiers "dedicated by the Union veterans of the Civil War, in honor of the Confederate soldiers." It proclaimed, "The chasm is closed."

Last weekend, the NAACP voted unanimously to call on the Board of Selectmen to tear down the monument, as well as a marker installed near the statue to explain its backstory, both of which the NAACP has called "a bunch of offensive, history-whitewashing baloney."

The NAACP sent a spokesman to the March 26 meeting of the Board of Selectmen asking for the momument to be removed.

Recently, Massachusetts has shown it's willing to topple monuments to Confederates. In 2017, officials removed a large stone tablet on George's Island installed by the Daughters of the Confederacy that paid tribute to Confederate prisoners of war who died there. At that time it was thought to be the only Confederate monument in the state.

But on the Vineyard, the locals are pushing back in the comments sections of local papers. "Yes! Let's erase history," reads one of them, dripping with sarcasm. Another commenter pointed to the NAACP rep's status as an out-of-towner: "No mere 'frequent visitor to the Island' has the right to advocate for removal solely on the basis of his race," this person's message reads, adding, "If the plaque so offends Mr. King, I would respectfully remind him that he has many other choices of vacation destinations."