Our Opinion: Spray paint the wrong tool for correcting Brattleboro's history

A war memorial on the Common, in Brattleboro, Vt., is covered in graffiti.

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We are willing to bet that most residents of Brattleboro would agree the Soldiers Monument at the Common should be amended to include the 65 people of color from greater Brattleboro who fought for the union in the Civil War, many as part of the famed Massachusetts 54th regiment, but were not honored in stone when the monument was dedicated.

An article about the missing names, written by the Brattleboro Historical Society, with research conducted by Brattleboro Area Middle School students, was published in the Reformer in December. Through that story, we learned some of these soldiers' names: Charles P. Smith. Daniel Green. Benjamin Loney. Hayworth Matthews. All had important stories to tell, and courageous service worth saluting.

Some were born here; others escaped bondage in the South and settled here. All joined the fight. Sadly, many of their comrades' names are lost to the ages, though the Brattleboro Historical Society has been working to fix that.

These men risked their lives, and in some cases gave their lives, for a nation that did not love them back the way it should have. Unquestionably, they all deserve to be honored.

But we also think these men would be appalled by petty vandalism recently scrawled upon the nearby Veterans Memorial Monument, which honors those who served in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam, as a means of promoting their remembrance.

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We think the Civil War soldiers of color who charged into the teeth of rifle fire and mortar shells would, given the chance, confront the injustice of their exclusion in the same manner as they fought: Head-on, heads held high, with their names attached to their words and deeds. It's difficult to imagine them anonymously defacing a marker honoring fellow veterans with spray paint.

Some might deem this vandalism an act of civil disobedience. But people who get themselves arrested for a cause, or purposely violate unjust laws to raise awareness of that injustice, do so in public, unafraid of the consequences.

It's our hope that future action intended to support this cause will respect public property and reflect the values of the very people whose honor and remembrance is much overdue. We hope those committed to addressing this injustice will instead take their case to the Brattleboro Select Board, to the media, and to Main Street. They will be heard.

In the meantime, this community owes a debt of gratitude to the Brattleboro Historical Society and to the students who assisted their research. They have made the case that our history is incomplete without recognition of Brattleboro's Civil War soldiers of color.