An emotionally charged debate over whether two plaques on a Civil War monument in Oak Bluffs should stay or be removed remains unsettled after the town selectmen decided this week to hold a public forum on the issue next month.

The statue of a Union soldier that stands at the corner of Ocean Park is a landmark that dates to 1891. Its history has been the subject of some confusion over the years, partly because it was built with money raised by a confederate soldier who had moved to Martha’s Vineyard and wanted to reconcile deep divisions that lingered after the war.

In March, the Martha’s Vineyard chapter of the NAACP formally petitioned the Oak Bluffs selectmen to remove two of four plaques that were affixed to the statue in 1925. One of the plaques honors confederate soldiers, reading in part, “the chasm is closed.” The other plaque describes the statue’s history as a “gesture of conciliation” from a confederate veteran. NAACP president Erik Blake, who is also the Oak Bluffs police chief, suggested that the plaques be donated to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.

Debate flared quickly, at times carrying racial overtones. Many joined the call by the NAACP to remove the plaques. But others, including Martha’s Vineyard veterans, have taken an opposite view, arguing that the plaques should stay in the name of honoring all who fought in wars.

Gretchen Tucker Underwood, an elected county commissioner and member of the NAACP executive committee, urged selectmen to make a decision. — Landry Harlan

The issue has been discussed at two selectmen’s meetings, with a third held on Tuesday night where camps from both sides crowded the meeting room in the Oak Bluffs library.

At the outset, board chairman Gail Barmakian said the goal was to discuss procedure, not the merits of one side or the other, and she urged speakers to avoid becoming mired in more debate.

“I know there are people here for this issue . . . but we are going to discuss how we are going to move forward with this question,” Ms. Barmakian said.

Selectmen quickly decided they should hold a public forum, but then debated at some length when and where it should take place.

Selectman Michael Santoro advocated taking more time to allow for more voices to be included.

“I don’t think we need to do it ASAP. I think it needs to be brought out and done right,” he said.

Ms. Barmakian disagreed, arguing that too much delay would only heighten the tension threading the issue.

“I think it needs to be done sooner rather than later. I don’t want to delay this,” she said.

Some who attended suggested that holding a forum on a weekday in May would exclude large numbers of people from participating.

After some debate, selectmen set the forum date for Tuesday, May 21, from 6 to 8 p.m., at a location to be determined. — Landry Harlan

“This idea of setting a meeting in a month is not the way to go because you’re eliminating a whole bunch of taxpayers who don’t live on the Island. There are a whole bunch of black folks . . . who aren’t going to be heard,” said Clennon King, a seasonal visitor to the Island and outspoken critic of the plaques.

“If we can do it on a weekend, then we’ll have a more complete voice,” added Oak Bluffs resident Marie Doubleday.

Mr. Blake briefly strayed from procedure to reiterate the position of the NAACP.

“Our argument at its base is it’s not a statue owned by the veterans . . . it’s a statement the town of Oak Bluffs is making and I don’t think it’s a good statement,” he said.

In the end selectman Jason Balboni suggested that the forum be held on Tuesday, May 21 in the evening and that the board explore renting a large venue for it. Other selectmen agreed and the date was set. The forum will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. The location is still undecided.

Selectmen also said they would invite members of the public to submit fact-based material on the monument, but they emphasized that letters of a personal nature would not be accepted.

“I think it should be factual and I think it should be historical. Let’s try to keep this as tight as we can,” said Ms. Barmakian.

Gretchen Tucker Underwood, an elected county commissioner and member of the NAACP executive committee, said while increased discussion and information can be helpful, selectmen are ultimately the ones who will have the final say.

“I trust my selectmen to make this decision,” she said. “You need to know that it’s tearing this town apart. I think if you don’t decide, then you’ve basically said no.”

Selectman Gregory Coogan agreed.

“We need to make a decision,” Mr. Coogan said. “No matter what we do, to a lot of people we will be the bad guys and to a lot of people we’ll be the good guys. There’s no win for us to be in the middle here.”

Mr. Santoro said he is more optimistic about what will come out of the forum.

“I’m hoping we’ll find a middle ground,” he said.