May 3—CONCORD — With state officials objecting to a historical marker on public property honoring the life of a Communist activist and Concord native, Gov. Chris Sununu has asked for a review of the approval process.
Executive Councilors David Wheeler, R-Milford, and Joseph Kenney, R-Wakefield, said the decision to place a marker about the life of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn in Concord was an insult to all veterans, and state officials should have blocked it in the first instance.
"Every man and woman who served in uniform as a Cold War warrior and our sisters and brothers, we do not support at all that this particular person gets a historic marker," said Kenney, a Gulf War veteran.
"This was a devout Communist. We are the Live Free or Die state. How can we possibly be popularizing this propaganda and spreading it in downtown Concord?"
Flynn, who died in 1964 at age 74, was an American labor leader and feminist who played a leading role in the formation of the Industrial Workers of the World and was a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union.
She joined the Communist Party of America in 1936 and became its chairwoman in 1961, three years before her death.
Flynn died during a visit to the Soviet Union, and the USSR accorded her a state funeral with a procession in Red Square that drew a large crowd, according to published reports.
The historical marker for Flynn is on city property near the Merrimack County Superior Court building close to Montgomery Street, where she lived during her first five years of life.
A large crowd of supporters celebrated the historical marker with a ceremony last Monday on May Day, the International Workers Day.
Sununu said he was shocked to learn of the marker, which the Concord City Council had approved six months ago.
"I completely understand the (Executive) council's concerns," Sununu said.
Asked whether the state could move to revoke that marker, Sununu said, "The state should always be able to take something down that is on state (public) property, and that is definitely a possibility."
Cultural and Historical Resources Commissioner Sarah Stewart said historical markers are approved for placement only after supporters demonstrate public support by filing a petition. The markers are then are considered by the relevant city or town government.
"Our agency is not in the business of approving or denying the markers," Stewart told the council. "We check on the accuracy of it. We make sure the text fits on the space in the marker."
Stewart said several historical figures with controversial pasts have been recognized with markers.
"I am sure your nose will crinkle at several of these markers," Stewart told councilors.
The new marker reads as follows:
ELIZABETH GURLEY BROWN
"The Rebel Girl"
Born in Concord in 1890, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was a nationally known labor leader, civil libertarian and feminist organizer. She joined the Industrial Workers of the World at age 17 where her fiery speeches earned her the nickname 'The Rebel Girl.' As a founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, Flynn advocated for women's rights, including supporting their right to vote and access to birth control. She joined the Communist Party in 1936 and was sent to prison in 1951 under the notorious Smith Act.
Arnie Alpert, a liberal activist and past leader of the American Friends Services Committee, helped organize the petition drive for Flynn beginning in 2020 and advocated for the marker before city boards.
"This is a person of historical significance, and she comes from Concord," Alpert said.
"This was a leader in the national labor movement. Yes, she happened to have been a member of the Communist Party. This was part of her incredible life of advocacy and accomplishment."
The COVID-19 pandemic and even supply chain issues delayed the final approval process for this marker, Alpert said.
After living in Concord, Flynn's family moved to Manchester. Flynn spent much of her adult life in New York, Alpert said.
Amy S. Dixon, community preservation coordinator with the state Division of Historical Services, asked the Concord councilors to approve the marker in a letter last December.
The city heritage commission also approved the marker.
Sununu said he did not necessarily want to change the approval process for historical markers, but he did want to review how this one came about.