BRATTLEBORO – After revealing research from three local students and their teacher, the city will purchase and install a new plaque to recognize the number of Vermonters who served during the Civil War but were not officially recognized on a monument because of the racism and classism of the time.
African-American soldiers, laborers and people who were paid to serve in the war as surrogates for the wealthier were overlooked during the construction of the monument, CEO Peter Elwell said at a meeting of the board of directors on Tuesday where the board voted unanimously in favor of the roughly $ 10,000 project. A committee formed to review the correction of the record and city staff proposed that the interpretive plaque be installed next to the city’s Civil War monument.
“This soldiers monument was erected to honor the Brattleboro men who fought in the Civil War,” it is proposed to indicate in part the plaque. “Research by students at Brattleboro and the Brattleboro Historical Society has clearly shown that the information on the plaques is incomplete, misleading, racist and classist. “
Elwell said the bronze plaque will be mounted on a block of granite sitting at about hip height. He predicts the installation could take place in the spring, followed by a groundbreaking ceremony and a rally scheduled for June 19.
The new plaque will explain that the original south-facing plaque says 385 men enlisted and 31 died in service, but records compiled by the US government and other organizations indicate that approximately 450 men served for Brattleboro and the at least 56 died as a result of this service, and the north-facing plaque listing the main battles fought by local soldiers does not include the military campaigns of the 22 African-American soldiers from Brattleboro, eight of whom died as a result of their service.
These campaigns included Chaffin’s Farm, Appomattox and Texas-Louisiana.
Further, the new plaque will say that the west-facing plaque, depicting a Confederate soldier shaking the hand of a Union soldier, “reinforces a stereotype that attributes” civilized “white men to” giving. ” liberty with benevolence to a grateful and submissive slave, obscuring the centuries-old struggle of Africans to oppose and combat slavery in the Americas.
Three students from the Brattleboro area middle school who are now in second year at Brattleboro Union High School – Avery Bennett, Priya Kitzmiller and Annabelle Thies – and their teacher Joe Rivers approached Elwell in January 2020 to share information. on the monument.
Bennett, Kitzmiller, Thies and Rivers are on the committee that nominated the plaque by Curtiss Reed, executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity; Mel Motel, executive director of the Brattleboro Community Justice Center, now part of Youth Services; and John Hagen, former president of the American Legion.
“It’s a real testament to the tenacity and research skills of the three students, and I don’t think they would have come this far without Joe’s tutelage,” Reed said. “I think it’s a brilliant idea to have a Juneteenth celebration in Brattleboro with the unveiling of the plaque telling Vermont’s story as it relates to African Americans.”
In a document shared with the board, the committee suggested hosting an official dedication of the new interpretive plaque on June 19 “to underscore the direct connection between the African-American soldiers from Brattleboro who served in the Texas-Louisiana campaign and the making of this campaign to bring the news of the end of the war to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation on what we now celebrate as June 19. “
Rivers estimated that more than 150 students have participated in the effort since its inception. Ian Goodnow, vice chairman of the board, praised the students for their “hard work and dedication in bringing attention to this serious mistake.”
“Further, I would like to thank Joe for his time, dedication, leadership and the encouragement of his students to challenge established historical standards in pursuit of real truth and justice,” Goodnow said before. to thank the other committee members for bringing their expertise to the project. “Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to these 22 BIPOC soldiers and about 43 other under-represented soldiers for their service, their sacrifice to this community and to this country. “
Board member Daniel Quipp said the wording on the plaque “carries a lot of meaning.”
“It shows that history is not a static and finite thing,” he said.
Board member Tim Wessel called the plaque “an elegant solution to things that are very important and left out.”
“Our act here is very instructive for future history students because it shows how a community can come together and right some wrongs while recognizing that past leaders and former members of the community have not achieved something,” he said. he declared. “Or maybe, where they were in the story, they couldn’t see what was right to recognize at the time.”
Board member Jessica Gelter applauded the project and suggested adding some kind of visual component. With Civil War monuments in various communities across the state, Board Chair Elizabeth McLoughlin said she hopes Brattleboro’s action can serve “as an example for all cities to correct. the record if it needs to be corrected “.
“It is a wonderful thing that our chosen board of directors is voting for truth and justice on a Tuesday night,” McLoughlin said.