Oak Bluffs Select Board Votes to Remove Confederate Plaques

May 21, 2019

Community members appealed to the Oak Bluffs select board on May 21, 2019.
Credit Sarah Mizes-Tan / WCAI

Two plaques on Martha’s Vineyard commemorating confederate soldiers will be removed, says the Oak Bluffs select board. The decision was met with surprise and joy by many of those who gathered at Oak Bluffs Elementary School for a community forum before the board on Tuesday night.

After hearing over an hour of public testimony, the select board unanimously voted to remove the two plaques recognizing confederate soldiers and will place them in a museum. 

The plaques, which stood at the base of a statue of a union soldier, were put up in 1925, and stated that the “chasm has been closed” between the union and the confederacy. The statue of the union soldier was given as a gift to the community by a former confederate soldier back in the late 1890s, and the plaques said the statue commemorated confederate and union soldiers. 

In March of this year, the island’s NAACP suggested removing the plaques, initiating a heated and emotional debate that touched on patriotism, racism and what it means to be a part of the Oak Bluffs community. Oak Bluffs resident Jocelyn Coleman Walton said the plaques were an unnecessary reminder of a painful history.

"They don't know what it feels like to look at a plaque that says 'The chasm is closed,'" she said. "The chasm has never closed for me. All I want you to think about is how this effects all our African American, our Wampanoag, and our people of color who know that the chasm is not closed." 

As the Vineyard's historic African American community has attracted the likes of Frederick Douglas and Barack Obama, many residents felt it was counter to the message the town wanted to send to have plaques honoring the confederacy. 

"If at any time, I felt in any way that you selectmen and the people here in Oak Bluffs would be confederate sympathizers, I would go back to Cambridge," William MacLaren, an Oak Bluffs summer resident said. "Please do not let us down."

The board did not. In their vote, the selectboard said the plaques will be removed as soon as possible by the public works department. The NAACP and the Veterans Council will be working on a replacement sign to explain the history around the statue instead.