PORTLAND, Maine — The trustees of First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church on Congress Street may remove a rectangular plaque honoring Confederate President Jefferson Davis, a move that comes amid a growing national debate over Confederate monuments.
Davis visited Maine during the summers of 1857 and 1858, and during that time, he worshipped at the church on occasion, something that puzzled church leaders as Davis wasn’t a Unitarian.
The plaque was donated to the church by the Daughters of the Confederacy, who were engaged in a public relations campaign to redefine the figures of the Confederacy as American heroes rather than traitors to the Union, according to church trustees.
“In this pew worshipped Jefferson Davis secretary of war, U.S.A., 1853-1857. Presented by the Nashville Chapter No. 1 United Daughters of the Confederacy,” the plaque reads.
But the trustees said they don’t know why someone from the church accepted the plaque or why it’s been there for so long.
In the wake of the deadly violence at a white supremacist rally protesting the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, church leaders started a conversation about removing the plaque, with some saying it never should have been accepted in the first place.
Trustees said a decision over whether to remove or relocate the plaque will be made within the next few weeks.
On Saturday, Bowdoin College in Brunswick announced it would relocate from a public space to its archives a bronze plaque honoring the names of alumni who fought in the Civil War on behalf of the Confederacy.
Among the names listed on the plaque is Davis, who received an honorary degree from the college in 1858 when he happened to attend a commencement at Bowdoin during a doctor-ordered stay in Portland.
“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 announcing the decision.
BDN writer Christopher Burns contributed to this report.