The Long Legacy of White Citizen Police: A Recap of the 12th Annual Gondwe Lecture

By Jeffrey Lauck ’18

Last week, the Gettysburg College Africana Studies and Economics Departments sponsored the 12th annual Derrick K. Gondwe Memorial Lecture on Social and Economic Justice. This year’s lecture featured Dr. Edward E. Baptist, a Durham, North Carolina native currently teaching in the History Department at Cornell University. His lecture, “White Predators: Hunting African Americans For Profit, From the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act to Lee’s 1863 Invasion of Pennsylvania,” painted the picture of a centuries-long instinct among white Americans to police black Americans.

Dr. Baptist began his historical lecture by reflecting on the present. He cited examples of young black kids like Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice being killed by armed white citizens and those same “police citizens” being acquitted of their murders. For Baptist, these cases are only the latest examples of white “police citizens” engaging in the legalized suppression of black lives. This legacy goes back over four centuries to the time when Africans were first brought to the shores of America in chains.

Baptist lecture
Photo credit: Jeffrey Lauck

The first slavery laws passed in colonial America had to do with the control of slaves. Before passing laws that established slavery as a trait inherited through a slave mother (never the father, who was often the slave owner himself), creating laws that regulated the transfer of ownership of slaves, and certainly well before debating any laws that sought to outlaw or limit the international trade in humans, colonial legislatures passed laws that dealt with hunting fugitive slaves. In doing so, they deputized all white citizens as officers tasked with returning runaway slaves. Newspapers soon filled with advertisements offering rewards for the capture and return of fugitives, making the whole black population a source of economic opportunity for white citizens. Fugitive slave ads urged their white readers to “not let anyone who fits the description of the fugitive” go free. According to Baptist, some bounty hunters carried several dozen such ads, stopping any black person they saw and cross-examining them against various descriptions of runaways.

Inevitably, many free-born African Americans were stopped, kidnapped, and brought south to a land they had never been, forced to perform free hard labor for masters they never knew, masters who did not care that these African Americans were in fact not escaped property. Solomon Northup, of 12 Years a Slave fame, is the most commonly-cited victim, but there were countless others. Black orphan children were popular targets, as they were easy to capture and often had no one to defend them in court or even know to search for them once they were taken.

Free black Northerners often found themselves with no legal course of action once kidnapped—well before the 1856 Dred Scott decision stripped them of all legal rights—as most states prohibited black men from testifying against white men. Even if victims could somehow get in touch with white friends in the North to help them, social norms within the white community as well as laws passed to expressly prohibit the aiding of anyone deemed a “fugitive slave” usually meant they were on their own. In 1820s Philadelphia—a popular target for slave hunters—40 to 60 Black Americans were stolen annually from a city where 10% of the total population of roughly 75,000 was African American. When Joseph Watson, a white Quaker mayor of Philadelphia, tried to put an end to a notorious kidnapping ring in his city, he was met with resistance from many in the white community and was only able to prosecute two black accomplices. No white slave hunters ever saw trial. The message was clear to ambitious whites: African Americans could be hunted in the North with little or no fear of legal repercussions.

Throughout the North, African Americans were feared by whites. For years, white Americans had been conditioned to see blacks as criminals. For many, the only time they saw news stories related to their black neighbors were in fugitive slave advertisements or confessionals from fugitive slaves who had killed their white masters. Rarely would white Americans encounter any black voices that challenged this view that they were criminals. Some Northern communities tried to create registers and databases for blacks in their community—a seemingly unprecedented effort that sought to surveil a population in an era when government surveillance was almost completely unheard of. Of course, as Baptist pointed out, these efforts were not really that unprecedented, as they bore a striking resemblance to the slave ledgers found on plantations throughout the slave-holding South.

Even in antebellum Northern states where black men were not explicitly prohibited from voting, white vigilantes’ intimidation usually kept black votes to a minimum. In Bucks County, Pennsylvania, dozens of black men, armed with guns, stood up to intimidation and voted, swinging the election against the white Jacksonians who had been in power. Bucks County whites successfully challenged the vote in court. The court ruled that black men could not vote because if they could, they would surely vote for the violent overthrow of white society. According to Baptist, this ruling reflected the “easy activation of the white police citizen reflex.”

Baptist painted a picture of continuity: one of four consecutive centuries of white citizens policing black populations. This conditioning helped define whiteness as much as it helped oppress blackness. Yet Baptist stresses that at each stage, from the Underground Railroad to the Black Lives Matter movement, there has been an active effort from African Americans to resist. After all, as Baptist notes, African Americans have been the core of coalitions that elected Barack Obama, passed the Voting Rights Act, and expanded legal immigration in the mid-20th century. Baptist ended his lecture by noting that history can often seem cyclical, with periods of successful resistance to and deconstruction of the white policing reflex as well as reactionary backlashes. Yet at each rebirth of the cycle, new causes emerge to expose different roots of the long legacy of white citizen policing.

To Arms! Announcing the 2017-2018 CWI Fellows

The Civil War Institute Fellows are back with replenished ranks for the 2017-18 academic year. This year, our veteran writers will be joined by green troops eagerly waiting to “see the elephant.” Armed with notebooks, libraries, and word processors, they stand united in line of battle to engage the history around them.

The Gettysburg Compiler remains the flagship of the fellowship, offering students the opportunity to showcase their hard work for the greater public. In the coming weeks and months, expect to see the Fellows tackle the past and present in new and exciting ways. As before, Fellows will share stories from the past, covering topics such as civilian life, slavery, and war and incorporating themes such as race, gender, and memory. The Fellows will be digging deep into the annals of history, examining eyewitness accounts of the often chaotic past and analyzing the ways in which people have engaged with their own versions of history. The Fellows are also keenly aware of their own place in history, so be sure to look out for their ruminations on the “living” history.

In addition to their work with the Compiler, the Fellows will also be interacting with history through two promising projects. The new “Killed at Gettysburg” project will see Fellows examining the lives of many of those who fell on the fields around them and sharing them through the wonders of digital history. Fellows will also be working with Gettysburg National Military Park to update interpretation around the battlefield.

Veteran Fellows Ryan Bilger ‘19, Savannah Labbe ‘19, Olivia Ortman ‘19, and Jonathan Tracey ‘19 welcome the addition of new recruits Jeffrey Martin ‘18, Nicholas Tarchis ‘19, Daniel Wright ‘18, Abigail Cocco ‘19, and Zachary Wesley ‘19. These wise students look forward to sharing their work with you, our faithful readers. All they ask in return is that you, too, engage in their research by “liking,” sharing, and discussing ideas in the comments section.

With that, it is our honor to present to you the 2017-18 Civil War Institute Fellows.

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Photo courtesy of Gettysburg College Communications and Marketing

All the best,

Jeffrey Lauck, Managing Editor

Anika Jensen, Managing Editor

Profiles in Patriotism: Muslims and the Civil War

By Jeffrey Lauck ’18

While many minority groups have had their contributions and accomplishments during the Civil War recognized, one group of Americans has received little attention. Muslim Americans are rarely the focus of Civil War scholars and are typically viewed as a demographic relevant only to more modern history. This should not be the case. In fact, Muslim Americans have served in virtually every armed conflict in United States history and left their mark on every era, including the Civil War. A simple search using the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (CWSS) reveals several names associated with Islam, including two Mahomets, two Hasans, three Rahmans, three Alis, 17 Saids, and 58 Hassans. In his Muslim Veterans of American Wars, Amir N. Muhammad theorized that as many as 292 Muslim last names appear in muster roles. Additionally, as many as 15% of African slaves brought to America are believed to have practiced Islam. While these summary statistics provide an overview of the scope of Muslim American involvement in the Civil War Era, their personal stories truly show their importance in shaping America.

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The 55th Massachusetts marches through the streets of Charleston in February of 1865. Published in the March 18, 1865 edition of Harpers Weekly. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Hajji Ali, an Ottoman camel driver, landed in Indianola, Texas aboard the USS Supply in 1856. Recruited by the U.S. government, he was to take part in one of the oddest military experiments in the pre-Civil War Era. A year earlier, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis convinced Congress to create the Camel Military Corps to patrol the newly acquired lands in the desert Southwest. When the camels arrived from the Ottoman Empire, they were met with awe and amazement from locals. The U.S. soldiers assigned to the new Camel Corps were equally bewildered and were unable to manage the exotic beasts. Enter Hajji Ali, nicknamed Hi Jolly by his American comrades. The first mission for the camels was to bring Lt. Edward Beale on an expedition searching for a possible Southern route for the transcontinental railroad. Sadly, and indeed ironically given the mastermind behind the creation of the Corps, the Civil War dashed any hopes for the future of the Camel Corps. Hi Jolly lived on, and became a local legend along with the dozens of camels that roamed the Southwest for years. Continue reading “Profiles in Patriotism: Muslims and the Civil War”

No, Trump’s Election Does Not “Feel Like the Fall of Reconstruction”

By Jeffrey Lauck ’18

On January 20, 2017, Chief Justice John Roberts administered the presidential oath of office to Donald Trump, making him the 45th President of the United States. Many Americans have variously perceived his election as “unprecedented,” “revolutionary,” and “terrifying.” Some historians found the turn of events leading up to and including Trump’s election to be rather familiar. In November, the Huffington Post ran a story titled “It Feels Like the Fall of Reconstruction.” In it, University of Connecticut professor Manisha Sinha outlined the parallels between 1877 and 2016. On Facebook, I have seen many of my liberal friends weigh in with similar analyses. This evaluation is misguided. To compare the rise of Trump to the end of Reconstruction is to undermine the chaos, violence, and widespread racial ambivalence that defined the Gilded Age.

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Then-candidate Donald Trump campaigning in Fountain Hills, Arizona in 2016. Via Wikimedia Commons.

In a broad scope, it is not difficult to see some similarities. By and large, the end of Reconstruction was brought about by rising indifference among white liberal Republicans toward continuing Reconstruction. Support for federal occupation of the South was growing stale ten years after Appomattox, and economic woes in 1873 distracted many business-minded Republicans from continuing to advocate for black civil rights in the South. In the election of Trump, perhaps we can see a parallel in many white voters’ ambivalence to candidate Trump’s pejorative statements on women, people of color, Muslims, and queer Americans as well as his prospective policies that would harm these groups. The majority of Trump voters likely did not vote for Trump because of these statements or policies, but they were at least indifferent enough toward them to vote for him anyway. Continue reading “No, Trump’s Election Does Not “Feel Like the Fall of Reconstruction””

Point/Counterpoint: The Gettysburg Battlefield Marathon

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By Jeff Lauck ’18 and Matt LaRoche ’17

Jeff: On November 6, the small town of Gettysburg will be swarmed by runners during the first ever Gettysburg Battlefield Marathon. The event has provoked heated discussion from many in the Civil War community, bringing up many questions regarding the use of our most hallowed grounds for recreational use. In this post, Matt and I will engage in a back and forth conversation about the concerns and advantages of the race. I’d like to begin by noting that the views that we each express in this piece may not necessarily be our own and that we may merely be bringing them up to contribute to the conversation surrounding the marathon.

My first concern about the marathon is an obvious one. The Gettysburg battlefield was the site of unspeakable horror and suffering. Is it appropriate that this sacred space be used for “fun” activities like a marathon? Runners will cross areas whose names have been immortalized for pain, agony, and death: McPherson’s Ridge, Little Round Top, the Wheatfield, the Angle. Few would view a marathon through the hallowed ground at Arlington National Cemetery as appropriate. Indeed, the Gettysburg marathon itself avoids the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. However, the Gettysburg battlefield is likely still a final resting place for hundreds of soldiers, so in reality, a marathon running through the battlefield is itself a marathon running in a massive cemetery. The battlefield was preserved as a memorial to those who fell. It should not now be trampled on by hundreds of runners in a spectacle marathon.

Matt: Well, Jeff, your point about the space’s sacredness is certainly well taken. However, I think the underlying question here may be what kinds of history we choose to preserve and commemorate, and why. No one can deny the world is an old and embattled place. Recognizing this begs serious questions of our traditional efforts at memorializing loss and sacrifice. First, what metrics determine what sufferings are legitimately worth remembering? For example, people the world over clearly feel a duty to remember their soldiers, but what about the civilian dead? Wars almost always cost more civilian than combatant lives, but the public’s imagination almost always centers on soldiers. Indeed, the ongoing scholarly debate as to the specific ratio is a testament to not just how overwhelming the reality of civilian deaths is, but also how little we like to think about this particularly senseless aspect of human conflict. Bringing civilians into the mix robs war of what glory it had, as one man’s honorable sacrifice is undone by a child’s meaningless slaughter. It becomes a story few really want to hear, and a serious problem for historical interpretation. And yet this is a key part of war’s story. Continue reading “Point/Counterpoint: The Gettysburg Battlefield Marathon”

An End to Slavery in the Confederacy: One of the Civil War’s Greatest "What-Ifs"

By Jeff Lauck ’18

A few weeks ago one of our readers posted a comment on one of our blog posts asking for a “best guess” as to when slavery would have ended in the South had the Confederacy been successful in winning its independence. There is, of course, no easy answer to this question, as counter-factual history is just that: not factual. However, the question is an important one that deserves attention and at the very least can be used to explore some ways in which slavery can be contextualized in the Civil War era.

The Confederacy was founded on the idea of preserving the institution of slavery. The short-lived nation’s need for slavery was economic as well as social. Economically, the South depended on an agrarian economy driven chiefly by cotton production. Cotton, a very labor-intensive crop, required large labor forces to produce. Consequently, profit margins depended on decreasing the cost of labor. Therefore, cotton’s profitability–and thus the economy of the South–benefited immensely from slavery. A change in the workforce would have severely disrupted the status quo. Poor Southerners, who may not have owned slaves, also saw the economic trickle-down effects of slavery: wealthy planters required food, tools, and other goods to keep the system of slavery running, and of these supplies would be supplied by yeomen farmers and craftsmen. As a result, many white Southerners who were neither wealthy nor owned slaves were also economically invested in the institution of slavery.

 When discussing the institution of slavery from a wide angle lens, it is easy to forget it's human toll. Images like these remind us of the inhumanity of the practice of human bondage. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
When discussing the institution of slavery from a wide angle lens, it is easy to forget its human toll. Images like these remind us of the inhumanity of the practice of human bondage. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Continue reading “An End to Slavery in the Confederacy: One of the Civil War’s Greatest "What-Ifs"”

A Connecticut Yankee in Jeff Davis’s Court

This post is part of a series featuring behind-the-scenes dispatches from our Pohanka Interns on the front lines of history this summer as interpreters, archivists, and preservationists. See here for the introduction to the series.

By Jeffrey Lauck ’18

For the past ten weeks or so, I have been interning at Richmond National Battlefield Park. The experience has been like no other. I began the summer with a few goals. First, I wanted to see if working for the National Park Service was everything that my fellow park geeks said it was. Second, I wanted to enrich my understanding of the Civil War by focusing my study on one particular community’s experience in the Civil War (Richmond). Third, as a born-and-raised New Englander, I wanted to see what it was like to spend a summer in Dixie. Finally, I wanted to have fun. I am happy to say that all four goals were achieved.

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Jeffrey Lauck at Cold Harbor.

At first, I was skeptical that I would end the summer as excited about the National Park Service as I was when the summer began. I thought that perhaps the rusticity of park housing, the endless government forms, and the sheer difficulty of some visitors would run me down and pop my balloon of excitement. Luckily, I was proven wrong. While all of these could at times impede my excitement, there were plenty of highlights to keep me going. Somehow, the joy on a newly inducted Junior Ranger’s face or a visitor who just found out where their ancestor had fought made the lack of quality Wi-Fi in seasonal quarters and the long distance from home worth it. Working with the Park’s social media also allowed me to combine my passion for the Park Service and history with my love of Instagram and Facebook. Best of all, I was able to get some experience in running a professional Instagram and Facebook page – a job skill that I am sure will pay off in the not-so-distant future. Finally, I was able to fulfill my dream of becoming a drummer boy by borrowing the park’s period drum and putting together a fife and drum presentation with a ranger who happened to be a fifer. While I know that I only got a glimpse of what it is like to work for the National Park Service, from what I could observe it definitely seems like the career for me. Continue reading “A Connecticut Yankee in Jeff Davis’s Court”

This Month in Civil War History: April 2016

By Jeff Lauck ’18

A hand-colored lithograph by Currier & Ives depicting the attack on Fort Sumter. Photo via Library of Congress
A hand-colored lithograph by Currier & Ives depicting the attack on Fort Sumter. Photo via Library of Congress

Click the play button below in order to listen to “This Month in Civil War History.” You can also scroll down to read through the transcript if you would prefer to read it. This report is also airing on WZBT 91.1 FM throughout this month. Thanks to WZBT for their help in producing this piece.

Transcript:

Continue reading “This Month in Civil War History: April 2016”

Find Your Park Friday: For the Love of Nature

By Jeff Lauck ’18

The Civil War Institute will be celebrating the National Park Service Centennial this spring with its brand new “Find Your Park Friday” series. Inspired by the NPS #FindYourPark campaign, the series will challenge our fellows to share their experiences exploring America’s national historical, cultural, and natural resources through trips and internships with the NPS. In our second post, Jeff Lauck discusses his passion for photography and the park that started it. 

Anyone who follows me on any social media will soon learn that I love to travel almost as much as I love taking pictures of the places I visit. From Chula Vista, California to Quoddy Head, Maine; Ramallah in the West Bank to the DMZ in Korea, I have been to many places in my less than 20 years of existence. Yet nothing has left more of an impression on me nor fueled my wanderlust as much as the natural beauty of America’s national parks. They are, indeed, “the best idea we ever had,” according to writer Wallace Stegner.

The author and his father at Glacier Point, overlooking Half Dome, during the author's first visit to Yosemite. Photo courtesy of Doreen Lauck.
The author and his father at Glacier Point, overlooking Half Dome, during the author’s first visit to Yosemite. Photo courtesy of Doreen Lauck.

My love of national parks began at a very young age. Lauck family vacations have always entailed some cross-country trek in the family minivan, stopping in small towns off the interstate to pitch up the tent while traveling thousands of miles from home. When I tell my friends tales of these legendary road trips, they marvel at how we kept our sanity while being cooped up in a car for 14 hours a day as we racked up miles on the odometer. While these trips were, admittedly, filled with temper tantrums and wrestling matches, the destinations–landscapes of mountains, valleys, beaches, canyons, and deserts– have made these trials all the more rewarding. Continue reading “Find Your Park Friday: For the Love of Nature”

The Forgotten 150th: Why the Civil War Sesquicentennial is Far From Over

By Jeff Lauck ’18

Last spring, my friends told me that it was the perfect time to get into Civil War reenacting. “The 150th is over,” they said, “No one is going to care about the Civil War anymore, so everyone will be selling all their stuff.” Somehow, this bit of insider trading information meant more to me than just bargain brogans and frock coats.

For many, indeed most, the Civil War ended when Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox on April 9th, 1865. For reenactors and amateur historians today, the Civil War ended last April with the 150th Appomattox events or maybe even last May with the 150th anniversary of the Grand Review in Washington D.C. And then it was over. The four year frenzy concluded as if the spring of 1865 was the end of America’s great 19th century identity crisis. Yet in a broader sense, the Civil War lasted much longer than its affixed truncation date of April 1865, and its sesquicentennial commemoration should likewise project well into the next few decades. Victories like the passage of the Reconstruction Amendments and the Civil Rights Bills of the postbellum era should be celebrated just as much as the victories at Gettysburg and Antietam. Likewise, the tragedies of the Colfax Massacre and the founding of the Ku Klux Klan should be remembered just as well as the assassination of President Lincoln.

Union reenactors at the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Appomattox. Photo by the author.
Union reenactors at the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Appomattox. Photo by the author.

Continue reading “The Forgotten 150th: Why the Civil War Sesquicentennial is Far From Over”