December 11, 2017
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Bowdoin relocates plaque listing alumni who fought for the Confederacy

By Christopher Burns, BDN Staff
Updated:
Troy R. Bennett | BDN | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN | BDN
A woman cycles by the statue of Joshua Chamberlain in front of the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick. The college announced Saturday that it will relocate a plaque listing the names of 19 alumni who fought for the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

Bowdoin College announced on Saturday that it will relocate from a public space to its archives a bronze plaque listing the names of alumni who fought in the Civil War on behalf of the Confederacy.

The decision to move the plaque listing the names of 19 Bowdoin and Medical School of Maine alumni — including Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who received an honorary degree from the college before the war — comes on the heels of last weekend’s deadly violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

That rally was meant to protest the decision by the Charlottesville City Council to take down a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

“What occurred in Charlottesville and the subsequent national conversation have led us to conclude that historical artifacts like this that are directly tied to the leadership of a horrible ideology are not meant for a place designed to honor courage, principle, and freedom,” Bowdoin College President Clayton Rose said in a statement.

The plaque, measuring 21 by 25 inches, was put on display in 1965 during a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Confederate Army’s formal surrender at Appomattox, which was overseen by Union officer Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a Bowdoin graduate.

The college said it will move the plaque from its current location on the ground floor lobby of Pickard Theater in Memorial Hall to the Bowdoin archives and special collections in the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library.

“Critically, this move explicitly preserves and acknowledges our history, our unusual relationship with Davis, and the fact that there were those at the College who did not support the preservation of the Union or the causes of freedom and human dignity,” Rose said.

Davis received the honorary degree in 1858 because he happened to be attending a Bowdoin commencement during a doctor-ordered stay in Portland, according to the Portland Press Herald.

Both the honorary degree and plaque have been the subject of controversy, culminating with a unanimous decision from the college’s board of trustees two years ago to end an annual student award given in Davis’ name.

That award, presented annually from 1973 to 2015, recognized students who excelled in constitutional law, according to the college. The college returned the full value of the award’s endowment to the original donor, the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

In place of the Confederate plaque, Bowdoin will install a panel describing the plaque, explaining its history, why it was moved, and how it can be viewed in its new location. This panel will update and replace a previously installed panel that explained Bowdoin’s connections to the Civil War and described its relationship with Davis.

“For the last fifty-two years, this plaque has hung, incongruously, in a space completed in 1882 that honors the service of alumni who fought to preserve the Union and to end slavery,” Rose said, adding that “this part of our history belongs in a setting appropriate for study and reflection.”


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