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History made as first African American becomes Gettysburg Mayor

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216 years after it was founded in 1806, the historical site of a major Civil War Battle has inaugurated its first African American mayor. Rita Frealing was sworn in this afternoon as the mayor of the Borough of Gettysburg at the Borough Office Building on E. High St. by outgoing mayor Ted Streeter.

Frealing is also the first woman to be Gettysburg mayor but it is her African American heritage that makes the event particularly symbolic in a location where over 23,000 Union Army soldiers were killed, wounded, or captured during a bloody battle for the civil rights of African Americans.

“I’m very happy to be part of the community I love so much. I will serve as a bridge between the many facets of our community,” said Frealing. “The people know what the answers are and what the questions are. We should all work together as that community.”

As her first duties, Frealing swore in returning councilmembers Patricia A. Lawson, Christopher M. Berger, Judith R. Butterfield, and newly-elected councilmember Chad-Alan Carr.

Frealing was born in the Annie Warner Hospital in Gettysburg (now Gettysburg Wellspan Hospital) and attended St. Francis Xavier School and Gettysburg High School.

Frealing said she was happy to be back in Gettysburg and looking forward to making a difference for the community. “This town molded me. It gave me experiences,” she said.

She later attended Penn State University and earned a law degree from Penn State Dickinson School of Law.

Frealing has contributed to the public good as Deputy Press Secretary for Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey and Director of Government Affairs for the Pennsylvania State Department of Education. She also served as Director of Press Relations for the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare.

Frealing has also worked as a volunteer at the Gettysburg National Military Park, giving tours on the The Angle, Little Round Top, and the Peace Light, as well as portraying resident Mary Jane Biggs (Jackson) in Living History demonstrations of life in Gettysburg during the battle.

Frealing was a TV and radio reporter and weekend weather anchor at WTPA Channel 27 (Now WHTM) and at WHP Channel 21, both in Harrisburg, and as weekend anchor for local radio stations WGET and WGTY.

During its reorganization meeting, the council unanimously re-elected Wes Heyser as president and Matt Moon as vice president.

Heyser said he was “proud to be part of the team and looking forward to a productive two years.”

Streeter said that after 23 years in borough government and 6 years as mayor he felt “fulfilled” but that it was “time to go.” Streeter said Frealing was a “very competent, intelligent, and capable person.”

The year’s first regular borough council meeting will be on Monday Jan. 10 at 7:00 p.m.

Featured image shows Frealing as she is sworn in by Streeter [Community Media of South Center PA].

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Charles Stangor is Gettysburg Connection's Publisher and Editor in Chief.

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  • Charles: I live out of town but I enjoy reading your print on a regular basis. I do have one recommendation. If you wish to be taken seriously as a journalist, please get the facts correct regarding the battle. People in your town who know the battle will see right through this and it could hurt your readership.

    In this good article about your new mayor, you said 23,000 Union soldiers died. I’m sorry but that is incorrect. There were 23,000 Union casualties including killed, wounded and captured: only 8-10,000 dead on the field. That error could fly where I live but in your town, it could limit your readership.

    Thanks and keep up the good work.

    Chris Miller
    Littleton, Colorado

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