“Be Carefully Taught”: African Americans in Adams County in the 20th Century

By Jennifer Simone ’18

Every year over a million visitors flood Adams County, Pennsylvania to tour the famous, or rather infamous, site of the Battle of Gettysburg. While most visitors primarily come to Gettysburg to learn about the battle, many leave with understandings of the unending impact of the Civil War on race relations. However, for a town that sparks such a progressive mentality in some, Adams County, and specifically Gettysburg, is often criticized for being ‘frozen in time,’ unwilling to keep up with progressive race relations after the battle ended. A panel entitled “Black Experiences in Adams County in the 19th & 20th Centuries” sponsored by the Adams County Historical Society and the Gettysburg College History and Africana Studies departments, addressed the importance of remembering this African American story. The panel included Gettysburg College Professor Scott Hancock, author Peter Levy, and Adams County residents Darryl Jones and Jane Nutter.

black experience adams county
Crowds gather to listen to the panel on February 6, leaving standing room only. Photo credit: Adams County Historical Society

The Great Migration in the early 20th century shaped the nation as six million African Americans moved from the Southern United States to urban cities elsewhere. The experience of African Americans in Northern cities has been highly discussed in recent scholarship, yet often left unattended are rural areas like Adams County. More specifically, within Adams County, there is also a portion of the story left incomplete–the story of the African Americans who lived with the legacy of the Civil War years after the last shots were fired and the Gettysburg Address was delivered. In a town dedicated to preserving history, one will see acres of preserved land, hundreds of plaques, and over one thousand monuments placed throughout town; yet despite all of this preservation, hidden before the visitors’ eyes are the black experiences in Adams County in the years following the war.

The goal of this panel was to paint a picture of what life was like for African Americans in Adams County in the 19th and 20th centuries since so much of it is lost to history with only oral tradition to keep the memories alive. Gettysburg College is dedicated to educating youth, and according to Jane Nutter, this is nothing new. She explained how 49 years ago, in 1969, she was sitting in a lecture by renowned African American anthropologist Dr. Louis E. King in the exact building she was currently speaking in. Growing up, she and other young, poor African Americans would come to the College to expand their understanding about what was going on in the world. She expressed immense gratitude for these opportunities and challenged the audience to use these experiences to become enlightened and then enlighten others as well. Remembering a quote she heard at that lecture 49 years ago, she warned the audience, “You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

You do have to be carefully taught. In a country where the 13th Amendment abolished slavery and the 14th Amendment guarantees equal protection, it seems that all is well. However, upon hearing the testimonies of African American Adams County residents Jones and Nutter, it became clear that the Civil War did not end the struggles within the African American community. Though Jones admits they ‘had it pretty good’ growing up, he and Nutter both recognized the racial inequality that shaped their lives. Segregation marked many aspects of their lives from residency to education.  

Concerning residency, African Americans were restricted to living on certain streets, all in the ‘Third Ward’ of Gettysburg. If attempts were made to live outside of the Third Ward, requests were never granted, and it was no coincidence. Nutter explained that it is painful to know the truth, but so important. The truth is, though African Americans were no longer enslaved, most African Americans in Gettysburg in the 1950s did domestic work for white families. Nutter’s mother did so, but she always made it clear to Jane that “I may be a maid, but I’m not a servant.” African Americans often found themselves having to advocate for themselves and the rights that should be naturally endowed upon them, as for all people. Adams County was one of the last counties in the country to get food stamps, something highly ironic for an agricultural community. Though great quantities of food were produced in the area, it was not accessible to the poorer residents who did not have food stamps. They only received food stamps once someone personally called officials concerning the issue. This delayed effort was largely due to resistance within the white community to food stamps, believing that they would be mostly for African Americans–an inaccurate assumption because most recipients were white.

When it came to education, there was also a delayed effort. York schools were only reintegrated in the 1950s, and though Jones and Nutter went to integrated schools, Civil Rights Era antipathy was evident. From resistance to being admitted into the gifted program to being discouraged from going to college, African Americans were often degraded by teachers and guidance counselors simply because they did not share the same color of skin. One’s heart could not help but ache when hearing Nutter recall a story of high school homecoming. She celebrated, remembering how her friend Missy  was the first black homecoming queen in her high school, but her face turned grim as she recalled that when the photographer came to take a picture of the homecoming queen he said “you?” when he saw Missy. She called upon the audience to imagine Missy being their child and the immense hurt they would feel. While African Americans were no longer enslaved as they once were before the Civil War, they were still enslaved in an unequal society.

The news is filled with stories of protesters fighting for Confederate monuments to stand, something Nutter found troubling since African American schools and churches have often been torn down in silence. It is no secret that the Civil War did not free African Americans from the chains of their past and we cannot change the past; however, by being informed today, we can shape the future. We, as intellectuals and concerned citizens, have a responsibility to take this knowledge with us and use it to shape the world. As Jones explained, this is not some noble mission. It is just being a decent person, and “I’m hoping that because you’re in here [or reading this] that you are that already.”

A Medal of Distinction:  Remembering the Montford Point Marines 

By Matthew LaRoche ‘17

This post comes from the exhibit catalog for “Right to Serve, Right to Lead:  Lives and Legacies of the USCT,” an exhibition in Special Collections and College Archives at Musselman Library, Gettysburg College. During the spring of 2017, we asked the CWI Fellows to select a item on exhibit and discuss its history and context. The resulting exhibit catalog is available at Special Collections, where the exhibit will run through December 18, 2017.

Montford Point Marines. Bronze replica medal. 1.5 in. replica of the Congressional Gold Medal designed by U.S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver, Don Everhart and awarded collectively to the Montford Point Marines on June 27, 2012 in the U.S. Capitol. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest award issued by Congress for distinguished achievement. Approximately 600 Montford Point Marines have received their medals. On loan courtesy of Dr. Deborah M. and Stephanie C. Smith, USMC Colonel (Ret.).

In the century that followed the Civil War, Jim Crow wormed its way into the heart of every American institution—including the military. Despite the illustrious tradition laid down by black servicemen in the Civil War, the racial norms of the post-war years worked to beat their successive generations back into the shadows. Many branches—including the Marine Corps—entirely banned African Americans from serving. Even traditionally inclusive institutions, such as the often short-handed Navy, relegated blacks to menial roles. Beginning in 1893, they could serve only as cooks and cleaners aboard U.S. ships.

Continue reading “A Medal of Distinction:  Remembering the Montford Point Marines “

A Beacon of Hope: Contraband Camps, Harpers Ferry, and John Brown

By Alex Andrioli ’18

This post comes from the exhibit catalog for “Right to Serve, Right to Lead:  Lives and Legacies of the USCT,” an exhibition in Special Collections and College Archives at Musselman Library, Gettysburg College. During the spring of 2017, we asked the CWI Fellows to select a item on exhibit and discuss its history and context. The resulting exhibit catalog is available at Special Collections, where the exhibit will run through December 18, 2017.

Contraband Camp at Harpers Ferry, WV. Stereoview card. The 3-dimensional stereoview and other photography brought the reality of the Civil War into civilian homes. This stereoview shows the rag-tag conditions of a contraband camp, erected just a few yards from John Brown’s Fort in Harper’s Ferry. Courtesy of Special Collections and College Archives, Gettysburg College.
Stereoviews were created by using a twin-lens camera that captured the same subject from two slightly different angles. The photographer then placed the two images on a stereoview card that could be inserted into a special viewer that merged the two images together and created a life-like, three-dimensional image. Stereoviews’ low cost meant they were an inexpensive way to insert one’s self into realistic three-dimensional scenes like the pictured contraband camp.

Continue reading “A Beacon of Hope: Contraband Camps, Harpers Ferry, and John Brown”

A People’s Journey, A Nation’s Past: The National Museum of African American History and Culture

By Danielle Jones ’18

On September 24, 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture was opened to the public after almost two decades of planning and more than a century of fighting for a memorial for African Americans. Starting in 1915, when a group of United States Colored Troops sought a memorial for their fallen soldiers, African Americans have worked to have their history remembered on a national scale. A congressional commission for a museum dedicated to African Americans was signed in 1929 by Calvin Coolidge, but the stock market crash in October prevented the museum from being built. The memorial was pushed to the back burner until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s galvanized the need for a museum again. In 1986, a joint resolution proposed by Representatives Mickey Leland of Texas and John Lewis of Georgia as well as Senator Paul Simon of Illinois marked the beginning of the modern fight for a museum dedicated solely to African Americans.

The representatives faced strong opposition from Congress about the museum. Perhaps the strongest opposition came from Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) who argued in 1996 that “once Congress gives the go ahead for African Americans, how can Congress then say no to Hispanics, and the next group, and the group after that?” Helms even went as far as stating that as long as he was in the United States Congress, there would be no museum. Despite this uphill struggle, in 2001 President George W. Bush signed House Resolution 3442, establishing a commission to develop a plan of action for the creation of the museum. In 2006, the location of the museum was finalized, and in 2009 the architectural group Feelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup was announced as the winner of the design competition held in January of that year. On February 22, 2012 the ground breaking ceremony for NMAAHC was held.

A view of the museum's stunning architecture. Photo credit: Douglas Remley / Smithsonian.
A view of the museum’s stunning architecture. Photo credit: Douglas Remley / Smithsonian.

Continue reading “A People’s Journey, A Nation’s Past: The National Museum of African American History and Culture”

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”

A Civil Rights Icon?: Edmund Pettus, From 1861 to 1965

By Logan Tapscott ’14

During my immersion trip to Alabama over the winter break, a group of students and I visited Selma, a city which was the center of the Civil Rights Movement in March 1965, and decided to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. On March 7, 1965, about 700 demonstrators, including Rev. Hosea Williams and John Lewis, attempted to march to Montgomery, the first capital of the Confederacy, to protest the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson and the lack of voting rights for African-Americans. Upon entering the bridge, Selma sheriff Jim Clark and state troopers stopped and then, a minute later, attacked the marchers. The attack known as ‘Bloody Sunday’ resulted in the death of a white minister. Seventy others were injured, including seventeen of whom were hospitalized. Two weeks later, on March 21, with protection from the federal government, about 8,000 demonstrators, including those from ‘Bloody Sunday,’ trekked from Selma to the former Confederate capital, arriving there four days later. While the bridge’s name evokes memories of the Civil Rights Era, the name Edmund Winston Pettus has a specific place in Civil War memory. Local residents decided to dedicate the bridge to him because of both his Civil War and post-Civil War career.

Edmund Pettus Bridge

Continue reading “A Civil Rights Icon?: Edmund Pettus, From 1861 to 1965”

Controversial Commemoration: Remembering the Varied Legacies of Nathan Bedford Forrest

By Logan Tapscott ’14

Over the winter break, I participated in an immersion trip to Alabama to learn about the Civil Rights Movement and visited cities like Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma that played an important part in the movement. Despite the past, I did not expect to encounter such a racially charged atmosphere fifty years after the push for desegregation and equality in the South. I also did not anticipate a controversy over a statue dedicated to Nathan Bedford Forrest. Forrest was born in 1821 in Tennessee and, with no military education, was later promoted Lieutenant General and became a controversial figure in the American Civil War. Historians and Civil War scholars continue to debate Forrest’s complex legacy. While famous for sending a Confederate division to what is referred to as the Fort Pillow Massacre in 1864, Forrest was regarded as an important commander for his guerilla warfare-style tactics and for creating and practicing the doctrine and tactics of mobile warfare. Throughout the former states of the Confederacy, mostly throughout Tennessee, people have erected statues of him and named public spaces after him. In the past ten years, people have debated about Forrest’s legacy and whether a commemoration is suitable, especially in Southern cities with a predominately black population, including Selma, Alabama.

nbf phot

Continue reading “Controversial Commemoration: Remembering the Varied Legacies of Nathan Bedford Forrest”

History United

By Amelia Grabowski ’13

“I left Danville when I was seventeen,” Mr. Davis repeats for the third time as we settle in for our oral history interview. Faced with a camera and sharing his memories, the sixty-six-year-old resident of the Dan River region who had called and insistently requested to be interviewed suddenly became shy, wondering aloud how helpful he could be. I can only imagine the courage it takes to share painful memories of a childhood spent in segregation in a city that would rather forget than ask forgiveness. I put on my reassuring smile, and state, “That means you’ve got seventeen stories to share.”

“Seventeen years of nightmares,” Mr. Davis corrects me, and with that he’s off — recounting his childhood, his first memories of segregation, adages his mother taught him, lessons he learned both from hostile neighbors and from the kindness of strangers on Danville’s city streets. Fifty minutes of stories go by before he pauses long enough to be asked a question. He’s been waiting fifty years for someone to ask him for his story. He’s not going to let the opportunity pass.

Grabowski ’13 with Mr. Davis

Continue reading “History United”