Racial Justice and the Lengthy Shadow of Gettysburg

Racial Justice and the Long Shadow of Gettysburg

(Bloomberg Opinion) – I thought it was a quiet night in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It was not like that. When my wife and I settled down at a campsite next to Dutch Wonderland – the amusement park built by a potato farmer in 1963 and now closed to Covid – a tragedy struck the city. The mother of 27-year-old Ricardo Munoz had called the county crisis intervention center – her son had struggled with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and was not taking his medication – but another family member named 911 arrived minutes later an officer whom Munoz had charged a knife, a shot fired, and the young man lay dead on the sidewalk.

Protesters gathered at the downtown police station demanding answers. As the hours went on, the crowd grew, the tension increased, and the lid came off. People hurled objects that smashed windows. The police fired tear gas and rubber bullets. Each side blamed the other for escalating.

The streets are quiet early the next morning. I listen to a handful of people who were right in the middle of it.

Nicole Vasquez: "We sang and I feel like we had good energy with the people who were here" – about 200, she says. I ask what they sang.

"What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? This is what democracy looks like. No justice, no peace. (Expletive) the racist police."

Minister Jerona Rokins Green: "We were all hit by tear gas and that's no joke, my throat still hurt. My whole face burns. Whole face burns. She was hit by a rubber bullet" – the woman next to her shows me a big one Red frame on the lower leg. But imagine, “If someone had been hit in the face with it?” In June a protester in Washington lost his eye to a pepperball shot.

Alaak Deu: "Who should keep his peace at the end of the day if they are shot with it?" – He holds up the rubber bullets. “What did you expect from an angry city? Countless and countless times they have told us, yes, keep your calm. We keep our calm and after that the radicals come out … and they won't listen to us. Don't want to hear because you know what they like to tell us? "You have been too peaceful. See where it takes us."

The story goes on

All these years later, we are only beginning to find out what happens to a postponed dream.

One of those arrested, a white student at Franklin & Marshall College, had bailed $ 1 million. Her father told a reporter that he was "completely exhausted". It's really just vengeful. You want to have faith in the system because it's the only one we have and then you experience this. I understand why my daughter would protest in the first place. "

25 miles west of downtown York lies James Smith, one of three Irish immigrants who signed the Declaration of Independence, in the churchyard of the First Presbyterian, whose story is a microcosm of the nation's divisions and efforts to overcome them. Guy Dunham, a former associate pastor, tells me that York was an early stop on the Underground Railroad and also the only county in Pennsylvania that did not vote for Abraham Lincoln. Confederate flags still dot the landscape outside of the city. First Presbyterian had abolitionist pastors – including one who ended up in jail after a fist fight with a southern sympathizer – and a century later, amid the racist unrest of the 1960s, it merged with a black church, one of only three such Presbyterian mergers on the Country to Dunham.

The merger bitterly divided the white community, but racism was not the only challenge facing the newly integrated community. Who would be in control of the liturgy, purses, and everything else? Within a decade, Dunham says, “A number of black families have left. And the reason for this is that they never sensed that there would be a representation of African Americans ”.

When the pastor returned from this period in 2012 on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of the church, he regretted that he had not done more for the integration of the pastoral staff. It wasn't until 2019, more than 50 years after the merger, that the Church hired its first black job as director of youth and higher education ministries. To be successful, integration requires more than a welcome mat. It requires power sharing – and giving up power, especially for people who look different, can be difficult. Southerners waged a war to prevent it, followed by generations of rearguards. Even among the most progressive, when there is a conflict of principle and power, there is often power. Can that ever change?

The First Presbyterian ward is older than many churches, but Dunham is optimistic about the urgency of young people. "The younger generation just doesn't have time to turn around to try to be diplomatic. They just say it. They just say it, and sometimes in a language that older generations find offensive. We have to tell them," You know what "Guys? Get on with it. Get over it. Hear the passion and feeling behind it. You don't have to like it, but at least hear what they say and the truth behind it."

On to Gettysburg, the military-political battlefield where armed men stood guard around the Confederate statues last July 4th after rumors spread that Antifa would descend to remove them. But the political battles here began a long time ago – and a long time ago the South won. History is usually written by the winners. Not in Gettysburg.

"When people understand how the fight took place, they see it almost entirely from a Confederate perspective." I walk the battlefield with Peter Carmichael, the thoughtful and passionate director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College. "So the generals who get people's attention here, Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, George Pickett – there aren't many people who can even tell you the name of George Gordon Meade." Earlier that morning I had passed Meade's headquarters without realizing it. “Nobody is putting a monument there. Nobody puts a flower there. Nobody sets the US flag there. If you go to the Lee memorial, you will see people putting Confederate flags and all of those things.

"It is so revealing, I think, shocking that in one of the decisive battles of the war, in which there is a decisive union victory, the people are looking at the final act of that great three-day battle – and you are looking at it from the Virginia Memorial from where from Lee was at the very bottom of Pickett's indictment – a man who has undoubtedly violated his oath on this land – and people go away and look at his great failure at war with the degree of sympathy and sadness for him. "

The debate over Confederate monuments and memories began not long after the war ended. "Well into the 20th century, union veterans had resisted doing anything reminiscent of the actions of the Confederate soldiers on this battlefield" – even as they reconciled with their old enemies. Reunions between soldiers on each side took place in 1888 and again in 1913, though no marker reminds them, as Carmichael points out. "That they can forgive each other, that they can look to the future … that's a remarkable thing. Some might even say that there is evidence of an American state of emergency there. Like many other civil wars, the leaders don't end with each other." start this war and get shot? "

But forgiveness was only half the challenge. “The big and important question that Americans faced after the war should be asked now. And there is no easy answer and it just goes like this: can we have justice and reconciliation? Can you have it both ways "

We have to because I heard the answer to his question in Lancaster, and we heard it in cities all over America: No justice, no peace.

After 155 years, the need for regional reconciliation that spawned a century of subjugation of Jim Crow and Confederate myth-making in the South may finally wane enough that racial justice can take center stage. Carmichael sees hope in an education system that has changed the perspective of its students. Not so long ago, “Most people didn't think the war was about slavery. Most people called Grant a drunk. (Now) there is at least one realization that the legacy of slavery and emancipation is certainly being felt today. And that we have to be honest with this past. And we see that in these protests against Black Lives Matter we see a consciousness, we see a knowledge, we see a belief that racism is institutionalized. This is a fundamental change. "

Before leaving Gettysburg, I stop at the Ragged Edge Cafe to meet with its owner, Jake Schindel, the district council president, and Charles Gable, the district manager. Following the murder of George Floyd, someone near Gettysburg, South Dakota called Gable and asked if he could do something about the South Dakota City Police Department using the Confederate flag on uniforms and vehicles.

Gable and Schindel hesitated to consider. "Personally," says Schindel, "I have the feeling that the nation must reckon with racism and slavery, but I also think," OK, as a member of the council, "It is my position to tell another place how to runs his city, as much as I disagree with it? & # 39; "

But then they started doing research and learned that their twin town was founded by Union soldiers – and that the town didn't adopt the Confederate symbol until 2009. “If you look at their police cars,” says Schindel, “this thing rolls with this emblem on it. Right there is a Confederate flag. I mean, how much more Dixie can you be in Gettysburg, South Dakota? “They also learned that Gettysburg, South Dakota is home to Selwyn Jones, George Floyd's uncle. Gable called him and asked if he would support the council, which sent a letter. He would.

After rejecting Schindel's proposal to end the twinning, the council approved a diplomatic letter explaining why their government supports Confederate symbols and monuments on the battlefield – it's practically a huge museum – but not for government purposes. "These Confederate symbols acknowledge our troubled past, but they do not honor that past – rather, they exist now to teach the injustices of the past." It's the right principle – and yet, as Carmichael explained, it's hardly the impression that many people take away from their battlefield visit.

That's a challenge for the National Park Service, and Carmichael says the agency is looking into it. The main message of the letter, however, set out in a nutshell why the momentum for the removal of Confederate symbols from state flags and city squares has continued to grow: “The non-use of Confederate symbols on our public property affirms for us and future generations that we are precious Lessons learned from the past and the past have promised not only not to repeat it, but to continue to pursue a more perfect American Union. "

The city of South Dakota removed the Confederate emblem this summer, but Gable and Schindel cannot say whether the letter had anything to do with it – they received no response. "To be honest, I'm a little disappointed," says Gable. "I was hoping we'd heard from someone."

The letter struck me as the kind of respectful and informed discussion we need more of, and the lack of a response shows that we are reluctant to get into it – a subject I will ask people about later. But now, as I leave the café, I order an everything bagel with smoked salmon cream cheese – my deep skepticism turns into an enormous surprise at the first bite. It may be the best bagel I've had outside of New York, or maybe a week of camping food is coming my way. Regardless, an urgent matter awaits and we make our way to a RV repair shop a few miles down the road. The pedal that flushes the toilet has dropped and won't turn on, so the previous problem with our refrigerator appears to be a minor inconvenience.

This column does not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Frank Barry is a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion. This column is part of a series entitled "In Search of Lincoln: A Portrait of America at the Crossroads". It contains accounts of Barry's journey west along the Lincoln Highway, a zigzag network of local roads that run from Times Square to the Golden Gate Bridge from September 11th through Election Day.

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