Relocating the Jefferson Davis Plaque
A bronze plaque listing the names of nineteen Bowdoin College and Medical School of Maine alumni who fought on behalf of the Confederacy in the American Civil War has being relocated from the ground floor lobby of Pickard Theater in Memorial Hall to a display case near the entrance to the George J. Mitchell Department of Archive and Special Collections in Bowdoin’s Hawthorne-Longfellow Library. The 21-inch by 25-inch plaque—which includes the name of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, who received an honorary degree from Bowdoin before the war—was originally put on display at the College in 1965 during a commemoration of the one-hundredth anniversary of the Confederate Army’s formal surrender at Appomattox, overseen by Bowdoin graduate Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Class of 1852).
“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,” said Bowdoin College President Clayton Rose. “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. Rather, this part of our history belongs in a setting appropriate for study and reflection. Special collections is where we preserve historical objects and records and where we invite members of our community and the public to research, study, and understand Bowdoin history and the lives of those connected to the College. 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.”