Open Letter to Borough Council Members

[This letter was written to members of the Gettysburg Borough Council and was read aloud at the council meeting on Monday July 13.]

To the Council members of Gettysburg Borough:

As we all know, on July 4th this year, hundreds of people came to Gettysburg in response to an online and unsubstantiated rumor that Antifa or some similar group would be coming to vandalize monuments and flags. Much like what happened in July of 2017, many of the people who came here, saying they were “protecting” the battlefield and town, were armed with a variety of weapons, including a great number of assault weapons like the AR-15.

Scott Hancock

When it is clear that there is going to be a large public demonstration seeking to reinforce the myth that the Confederacy is something to be remembered only with honor and reverence, I think it is important to attempt to correct that myth that has been based on a century of bad history. It is important to tell the whole story of the Civil War, including that the primary organizing principle of the Confederate government was, as numerous Confederate leaders said repeatedly before and during the war, to maintain the right to own slaves. This was perhaps most concisely stated in all capital letters by Richmond newspaper Southern Punch in 1864, “WE ARE FIGHTING FOR INDEPENDENCE THAT OUR GREAT AND NECESSARY DOMESTIC INSTITUTION OF SLAVERY SHALL BE PRESERVED.” In short, I think it is important not to suppress history, but to have more of it.

Two days before, I sent an email to a five friends and let them know I was planning on going to three Confederate state monuments. Two of them, a father and son named Jim and Jimmy Schambach, live in Mechancisburg; the other three, Shawn Palmer, Clotaire Celius, Gavin Foster and myself live here. Three of us are Black and three are White. My son and I made miniature flags & my wife made signs on Friday night. That’s the level and limit of organization. Two documentary filmmakers, through another friend, contacted me on Friday and found out what I was planning and asked if they could come film the next day. What they saw was dozens of people, many armed with assault weapons, clearly trying to intimidate us, yelling racist insults at us, taking pictures of our license plates, following us to our cars and cheering when we left the Virginia and Mississippi monuments as though they and their AR-15s had successfully driven off our invading “army” of six men in shorts and flip flops, armed with signs, cell phones and water bottles, and then following us for two miles until I turned toward the middle school because that’s where Shawn Palmer had told me the police had set up camp. The actual armed invaders of Gettysburg were not here to protect history. They were not afraid of history being erased. They were afraid of more history and more truth.

The vast majority of those who came to Gettysburg on July 4th, a day that we remember as founding a country in which the right to free speech is not only protected but highly valued, did not want  to protect free speech. They wanted to suppress free speech. If you think I’m exaggerating, I’d point to the first conversation we had at the North Carolina monument, where an armed woman told us if she saw somebody burning a flag—which a  constitutionally protected exercise of the first amendment—she would kill them. Maybe she was exaggerating to make a point, though when I asked her if a flag was worth the same as a human life, she would not answer.

It’s important to keep in mind that one of the best uses of Gettysburg National Military Park is to teach children and families about United States history. In any normal summer, we have all seen busloads of school kids on the battlefield. We’ve seen families with kids of all ages. This should not be a place filled with angry people with AR-15s and other weapons. In 2017, a man accidentally shot himself with his gun. This year, I’m told somebody dropped a gun in a parking lot. Will we wait until there’s an accident that kills one of those schoolkids?

I’m not entirely sure what the solution is. I understand second amendment rights. I do not understand why these kinds weapons in particular should be permitted at Gettysburg National Military Park that has a specific function of educating the public, including our children.

Sincerely and respectfully,

Scott Hancock

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  • Yes Scott I’d rather have the anti- here burning and looting and tearing statues down then some crazy law-abiding citizens with weapons next time will let the peaceful antifa do their job

  • I completely agree with Dr. Hancock. The danger of hundreds of armed people who do not follow what is happening enough to realize that the supposed antifa protest was a hoax are far greater than the supposed danger of the threatened flag-burning, an ugly act that is nonetheless protected by the first amendment. In fact there was no flag-burning, just as the same hoax never came to pass three years ago. But what did happen was mass intimidation. It is especially alarming to read that one of the members of the armed mob could not tell the difference in importance between a flag and a human being, claiming she came ready to shoot to kill if anyone burned a flag. Those claiming to protect rights need to first study them. I also agree that what is needed is actually more, not less history. Modern lovers of the Confederate flag have called it “heritage, not hate.” Their theory is that the Civil War was not fought over slavery. If so, why is Confederate history so full of statements about slavery as the reason for the rebellion? The famous “Cornerstone speech” at the beginning of the rebellion, given by Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens declares, “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.” If that is a “heritage,” it is a heritage of hate. Learn from the horrors of enslaving one group of people by another, but don’t romanticize it. And please don’t encourage hundreds of armed, Confederate-flag-waving militia members to invade our beloved National Cemetery (where Union soldiers rest) to frighten citizens, and to threaten people who dare to wear shirts saying that yes, black lives matter. The safety of both our citizens and our tourism would be much increased by the repeal of the NRA-sponsored 2009 amendment to the CARD bill, that changed Reagan-era common sense restrictions on firearms in National Parks, now allowing militias to come and threaten people with AR-15s. I respect Dr. Hancock’s call for more historic information, rather than for taking down battlefield monuments. If we could add a monument, though–I would like to see one in memory of our loss of free African American Pennsylvania citizens, who were kidnapped and taken south into slavery, prisoners of the retreating Confederate troops. That is also part of the heritage of the Confederate flag. Judy Young

  • I am in full support of Professor Scott Hancock’s position.

    My understanding is if there is a threat to persons or property, this is an issue for law enforcement, not vigilantes. In spite of people being allowed to carry guns, they are not given permission to “police” anything except to protect themselves (a true threat must be in evidence) and to protect their own home and property. It is my opinion that they had no right to be there with intent of killing others, if they saw that as “necessary”, regardless what the others were doing.

    It is quite possible that following someone could be illegal and considered threatening or harassment.

    I am for removing offensive monuments given that most were erected, not to mark an historic event or location, but as a racial intimidation to people of color. I believe that Gettysburg is one place that Confederate monuments should remain in an historic content and place. I am not for protestors taking them down; but again this should be a law enforcement issue. Monuments should be evaluated, and if they hold merit, placed in historic or museum environments.

    It is time to end the Civil War forever! All men are created equal. It is not up to us to judge the worthiness of anyone but ourselves. “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Mat 7.

    Joan Horak

  • Thank you to Scott Hancock for his efforts to educate others. It is astounding to me that some people still claim that the Civil War was not about slavery. To say so is to refuse to face the facts of history. The invasion of Gettysburg by armed racists was met by peaceful residents like Dr. Hancock who tried to hold an open discussion. The ugly, hate-filled words that were thrown back at him have no place on hallowed ground–nor do the people who show no respect for their fellow humans.
    Marcia Gregorio

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