Rev. Leonard M. Hummel, PH.D. and Rev. Dr. Teresa L. Smallwood JD, PH.D.
After a long hiatus, We Talk. We Listen is back – but we are taking it in a direction even more vital and poignant from years past.
Since becoming the director of the Albert “Pete” Pero, Jr. and Cheryl Stewart Pero Center for Intersectionality Studies, this blog is now going to be focusing on intersectionality – the ways that “categories of difference” such as race, gender, class, ability, and sexuality (etc…) interact and overlap and influence each other, for good or ill. The first of these posts, as we continue these closing days of Black History Month, focuses specifically on is by the Rev. Dr. Leonard M. Hummel, Ph. D. and the Rev. Dr. Teresa L. Smallwood JD, Ph. D. and the historical-political and racial-political implications of arguably the most famous battleground of the US Civil War – Gettysburg. Read, comment, and share!
Rev. Dr. Linda Thomas
Professor of Theology and Anthropology; Director, Albert “Pete” Pero, Jr. and Cheryl Stewart Pero Center for Intersectionality Studies
Following the deadliest battle (over a three-day period) of the Civil War in 1863, many prominent U.S. leaders have visited the grounds of Gettysburg to reflect on the meaning of that battle for America, both then and now. Standing in its new cemetery four months after the slaughter had ceased, Lincoln called for a new birth of freedom to ensure meaning for those deaths. In March of 1963, John F. Kennedy toured its park, and, later, Lyndon B. Johnson gave his own address on race and freedom where Lincoln earlier had stood.
However, as we noted in the first installment of this Blog, a President who had announced that he would deliver a Gettysburg Address in November of 2013, 150 years after Lincoln had done so, Obama did not do so–for reasons that have never been made public.
As we shared in our earlier entry, through the activities of anti-slavery civic and religious leaders, underground railroad conductors,and an African American community whose members risked enslavement/re-enslavement, “Before the war came . . . Gettysburg had primed to respond to issues of race/racism; slavery/freedom; suffering/consolation for suffering.”
In this installment of “Increased Devotion,” we reflect on race and religion from the place of Gettysburg from the time following the battle until now. We tell this story of Gettysburg as one of endurance and hope amidst the persistence of racism. Endurance and hope amidst racism had been the experience of Frederick Douglass before the war and of his unfinished work of war against racism that continued in post-bellum years—including at his Gettysburg lecture in the Agricultural Hall there on January 25, 1869.
Much could be said about Douglass’s address at Gettysburg—and much has been said by Codie Eash about this lecture in which the orator linked the revolutionary work of the 16th century Dutch Prince, William of Orange, with the revolutionary new birth of freedom called for by Lincoln six years earlier.
But much also must be noted about the racist remarks that Douglass—who had received death threats when he had spoken elsewhere—had laid before him by one local newspaper, the Gettysburg Compiler, before his January address: “The negro is not the white man’s equal, and no attempt to force him upon the white man, .. . can ever be successful.” (The Gettysburg Compiler, January 15, 1869, 2). And as Eash has painstakingly and painfully documented, the worst racist epithets of both his era and our own were directed at him by this same newspaper following his Gettysburg address.
After the Civil War, amidst the failure of the United States to ensure the Civil Rights of African Americans, Black Americans throughout the United States relied on many resources to survive and thrive—including, if not especially, leaders, teachers and organized religious life. And so did many African Americans in Gettysburg – Among such leaders was Basil Biggs (1819–1906).
Throughout the borough’s post-bellum life, there have been many such leaders and teachers who acquired wealth following the battle from his oversight of the interment of fallen Union soldiers, and then, with these earnings, real estate.
Not satisfied with his own financial security, Biggs transported black Gettysburg citizens to the polls in 1870 to ensure that the words of the 15th Amendment had not been adopted in vain but, rather, might be made flesh.
Throughout the history of Gettysburg, many teachers emerged to serve the black community. Following the war, the first was Lloyd Watts (1835-1918) who was a veteran of the 24th United States Colored Troops and following the war, a dedicated instructor of young persons. Along with Biggs, he helped found the Fraternal Order, Sons of Good Will, who provided that provided burial of U.S.C.T soldiers.
And, along Biggs, Watts was a leader in Saint Paul’s African Methodist Episcopal Church, Zion.
Following the battle of Gettysburg, its battleground became a place of tourism for many Americans. In the late 1800s/early 1900s, many visitors to Hallowed Ground often found much pleasure with picnics, excursions, recreation—and, for a minority, occasional minor misbehaving. During this same period, Blacks from nearby locales also traveled to Gettysburg. Many who did so journeyed from Baltimore across the Mason-Dixon line.
African-American Tourists from Baltimore
On occasion, some Black Baltimore church leaders chastised their flocks for making this pilgrimage—perhaps for their focus on having fun and, thereby, for not lifting up uplift. And some Gettysburg whites were discriminating in directing their attention toward those few black tourists whose spirited recreational activities “broke boundaries” rather than also minding that a significant number of white tourists also did so. In the end, however, most Gettysburg whites appreciated the money spent by all African-American visitors even if a few did not appreciate any of the visiting African-Americans who spent it. (Jim Weeks, Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and an American Shrine (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003, 90-98)
After the war and up until now, tourists have not been the only groups to journey to Gettysburg:
Threats by the Klan to appear in the borough continue now—threats that on certain occasions have resulted in their making appearances,and sometimes not. However, in all instances, these threats have aimed to terrorize by the very process of threatening to appear.
In the first installment of this blog, one of us wrote,
“The battle of Gettysburg is arguably the turning point of the American Civil War and is unarguably the most iconic event of that war and its many meanings. Among those many meanings is the particular significance of Gettysburg for white racism.”
The meaning of the “Klan at Gettysburg” for white racism manifests itself in the informed judgment of the Louisiana State University historian Gaines Foster’s that, in the post-bellum South, the hooded Ku Klux Klan often portrayed themselves as the original Ghosts of Gettysburg—that is, they donned spooky garb to represent Confederate soldiers slain at Gettysburg who had returned from the dead to wreak revenge on emancipated blacks. Ghosts of the Confederacy: Defeat, The Lost Cause, and the Emergence of the New South: 1865 to 1913, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987, 48).
And in her essay, Haunted Histories: A Cultural Study of the Gettysburg Ghost Trade, Pamela Cooper-White has argued that, hovering above all the fanciful ghost tours that float around Gettysburg, the real ghost that haunts the borough—and the U.S.A.—is the unhealed trauma of racism then and now.
In the previous installment, we noted that, before the war, leaders like Samuel Simon Schmucker and Daniel Payne led the church and society in addressing racial justice through the lens of religion? What has been the response to the seminary after the war?
After the war, the seminary’s response to race and religion was much like its reaction to the battle itself which swept over its grounds. Summarizing the period from this immediate aftermath of battle until well into the start of the twenty-first century, the late Frederick Wentz, a leading historian of this seminary, commented, “The Seminary–intent for its 175 years upon training leaders for the Lutheran Church–has not cultivated the story of its involvement in the battle..[i]
Many others would concur that from the time of the battle until now, Gettysburg Seminary has engaged in a kind of collective forgetting, not remembering, of the many violent, sad, and compassionate occurrences on its grounds, so that it might instead focus on preparing its students for ministry. Until recently, that is.
It is no wonder to both of us—one, an African American, lesbian woman currently living in Gettysburg, PA and, the other, a non-black cisgender man now living in the rural Minnesota where some Confederate flags do fly
–that President Barack Obama did not attend the 2013 celebration of the Gettysburg address. One reason is obvious. It has very little to do with Obama’s speech making capacity, as George E. Condone, Jr. of the Atlantic opines. It is a simple calculation of safety. One of us had been in Gettysburg less than one month when she was warned to back my car into the park at her home so that people could not see the “Biden/Harris” sticker on her bumper. No speculation was needed. It was a clear indication that certain political views, indeed worldviews, are not wholly tolerated here. Fortunately, that has proven less a threat and more an invitation to engage. However, for a sitting president whose ontological being was questioned from his birthplace to his intellectual fitness, it is not hard to see how such a decision could be made. Weighing the circumstances as they currently exist in America, one can see how safety is an issue generally for many non-white Americans. While we acknowledge that much has changed in the centuries since the Gettysburg address, specifically regarding race relations in America, much has remained the same. According to African Americans during the Gettysburg Campaign (U.S. National Park Service), “Gettysburg’s black population made its escape. Abraham Brian, a farmer on Cemetery Ridge, left with his family. Basil Biggs, a veterinarian, made a hasty retreat, as did Owen Robinson, a retailer of oysters and ice cream. They knew … better than anyone, that Gettysburg was not safe for people of color.”
In some places in America, presently, it may be noticeably worse. As evidence to this fact, January 6, 2021, looms large in our theological imaginary.
At the Capitol Insurrection, there were folks carrying the Bible while marching in lockstep with folks carrying a hangman’s noose. Why? The ‘theological crisis’ that this fact alone conjures marries well with the thesis in Mark A. Noll’s book The Civil War as a Theological Crisis. Noll illumines the paradox that both sides of the battle cited the Bible as their inspiration for the fight. The proslavery contingency and the anti-slavery advocates both relied upon biblical authority to support their stance in the war. The Bible has been used for millennia to support radically oppositional views. Abraham Lincoln commented “In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God can not be for, and against the same thing at the same time” (88–89) The interesting thing about this observation is that despite its obvious veracity, the phenomenon continues. In a class with four women currently in ministry, three of whom are pastors, the instructors learned what blacks living in Gettysburg, PA before, during, and after the Gettysburg battle confronted as part of their lived theology: hate-talk disguised as God-talk is still hate.
The presence of both icons—the Bible and a hangman’s noose recalls the tensions that were obvious in the Civil War—a fight over who is legitimately a human, who can participate in this government, and who should be relegated to permanent involuntary servitude with all its brutality and terror. These are questions that earlier leaders such as Samuel Simon Schmucker and Daniel Payne engaged in on the grounds of the seminary at Gettysburg and which the seminary on the Gettysburg campus is called on to engage now.
The display of the Confederate flag is another icon of the Civil War, which, quite frankly, unmistakably harkens back to the time and place fraught with treachery and perfidy so dynamic that it caused fissures in the American psyche plausibly evident in present generations. As we noted earlier , we understand the trauma of Gettysburg to be the ghost that not only haunts this borough but also the ghost that takes on flesh which visits both the nation’s capital and the nation itself.
Americans committed to the acrimony of a bygone age, (July 1-3, 1863), sought to reenact its reign of terror on the nation in 2021. Reminiscent of the battle of Gettysburg, the rancor displayed on January 6, 2021, fills the anachronistic lacuna, which fuels disparate winds in government, politics, society, and faith.
At the Gettysburg campus of United Lutheran Seminary (ULS), one of us co-taught a course with Rev. Dr. Martin Zimmann entitled “Let’s Talk: Racial Reckoning in Ministry Context,” where we engaged our students in an intensive week of critical thinking around race relations. Through this “course for church leaders either engaged or preparing to engage in conversations about race in America within their ministry context, we posed the following questions: How do we walk with people from white fragility to white humility? How can we help folks understand that Critical Race Theory and The 1619 Project are the truth that sets us free from fear and encourages us to see the world around us with Christocentric and inclusive focus?” Faced with congregants who express the kind of hostility pictured in these images where challenges to authority, physical violence, terrorism, and mayhem are freely engaged, current ministry students face the challenge of faith versus fear. This fact was affirmed in a life-learning seminar collaboratively produced this summer by ULS faculty, life-learning director, and Peter Miele, director of the Seminary Ridge Museum and Education Center. We assembled over 15 persons to the Gettysburg campus for a 2-day conference entitled Sites of Conscience in concert with the International group. The pastors who attended were all part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) or affiliated with the seminary as alumni. All expressed frustration at how to engage the struggle around divisions stemming from race and racism. As a “site of conscience” the battle ground and the museum offer much to assuage the concerns of those in clerical positions, if the location serves as a site of conscience–a place destined to bring people to truth and reconciliation as opposed to a place where people come to square off with old divisional lines where reenactments seek to lean into the divisiveness from two centuries ago.
Our country has once again internalized its own fears such that building a wall of separation from perceived enemies is promoted as a sufficient method for national protection, in theory, against immigrants who seek our refuge; when in reality, a wall is a metaphor for the fears within that give rise to the same people who promote building the wall literally climbing the walls to mimic the very thing they name as a threat.
The fear that drives them transfers to those whom they seek to conquer. That same fear drove this country to war against itself from 1861 to 1865 and it is postured to do so again. Paradoxically, we call that war “Civil.” How do we combat this fear? Fear is not of God. Fear is an emotion that characterizes a lack of faith. The apostle Paul put it best in his second letter to the young preacher, Timothy, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control.”
Our students at United Lutheran Seminary engage with several conscience forming exercises to prepare them for this work. The students in the racial reckoning course completed a media project helping them focus critically on the subtle messages of racism, sexism. xenophobia, intolerance and the like in media. One student discovered in her work on the “racialization of media” that “while narrative frames may not directly change the views of readers, readers who consistently rely on single news sources risk falling into an echo chamber, where their prior beliefs and shared assumptions are reinforced.” (Duxbury et. al., 2018) This fact helped our students discern the many ways that marketing strategies intentionally tap into the psychology of people to drive racialized narratives.
Gettysburg College has an exemplary teacher in Professor Scott Hancock whose valiant efforts to confront hate-talk speaks to the societal corrective that is needed. Professor Hancock’s dialogue with oppositional voices offers pastors and lay people a modicum of resistance narrative that is powerful and transformative. In one exchange Professor Hancock stood flatfooted on the Gettysburg battle grounds to speak truth to power by saying “that the organizing principle for the Confederate government, the reason there was a battle here was because of slaves.” Those in the crowd shouted back, “it was not!” Scott defiantly continued, “yes, it was!,” in response to a chorus of “no, no, no, it was about money!” Scott retorted “What money? Money generated by black men and women!” When this country can square its conscience with that truth, we can start the journey to racial reckoning.
In these reflections on race and religion from the place of Gettysburg, we have striven to speak of endurance and hope amidst the persistence of racism in the United States of America. In doing so, we have striven to illustrate that the place of Gettysburg offers a story of endurance and hope for not just to this particular town but for all towns, cities and places in the nation itself. As Lincoln argued in his Gettysburg Address that meaning of Gettysburg is for increased devotion to a new birth of freedom for all Americans (lest those who died for this unrealized freedom might have done so for no real purpose at all), we here address all who listen that all of us are called to devote ourselves to the unfinished work for a free, just and democratic America.
We close by noting one source of our own “audacious hope” in the determined will of President Barack Obama to find, after all, more than one way to address Gettysburg in November of 2013.
One way was to produce his own recitation of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:
And his other way was to compose a handwritten letter of his reflections on that address. President Obama addressed racism and slavery:
He [Lincoln] knew that even a self-evident truth [“all men are created equal”] was not self executing; that blood drawn by the lash [A reference to Lincoln’s reference to slavery in his Second Inaugural Address in 1865] was an affront to our ideals.
And then President Obama called on all of us to devote ourselves to the unfinished work for a free, just and democratic America because…
“…it is through the accumulated toil and sacrifice of ordinary men and women — those like the soldiers who consecrated that battlefield — that this country is built, and freedom preserved.”
 Codie Eash, “Douglass at Gettysburg, 1869” (Unpublished Manuscript, 2021). Codie Eash is the Director of Education and Museum Operations, Gettysburg Seminary Ridge Museum and Education Center 61 Seminary Ridge, Gettysburg, PA., 1732
[i] Frederick K. Wentz, “Foreward” in Michael A. Dreese, The Hospital on Seminary Ridge at the Battle of Gettysburg(Jefferson, NC, London: McFarland & Co., Inc., 2002), 1.
Rev. Dr. Leonard M. Hummel is Professor Emeritus of Pastoral Theology at United Lutheran Seminary (Gettysburg/Philadelphia) and currently serves as Hospice Chaplain/New Ulm Medical Center, New Ulm, MN and as Adjunct Professor of Pastoral Care, New Brunswick Theological Seminary, New Brunswick, New Jersey. In 2017-2018, he was the Visiting Professor of Religion at Augustana University and the Visiting Scholar at the Zygon Center for Religion and Science at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. At Gettysburg Seminary, he was Co-Project Leader of the Templeton Foundation funded AAAS grant, “Science for Seminaries.” His co-authored book, Chance, Necessity, Love: An Evolutionary Theology of Cancer was published by Wipf & Stock in 2017. He is a co-editor of Gettysburg:the Quest for Meaning, (Seminary Ridge Press, 2015) and was the Faculty Liaison to the Gettysburg Seminary Ridge Museum. A native of Baltimore, Maryland, he has lectured in South Africa and widely elsewhere on race and religion in the American Civil War. Hummel is a graduate of Haverford College (A.B.), Yale Divinity School (M. Div., S.T.M.), and Boston University (Ph. D. in Religious and Theological Studies).
Dr. Teresa L. Smallwood, a native of North Carolina, earned a B.A. degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she majored in Speech Communications and Afro-American Studies followed by a Juris Doctor degree from North Carolina Central University School of Law in 1985. Answering the call to ministry, she earned a Master of Divinity degree at Howard University School of Divinity in 2010, followed by a PhD degree from Chicago Theological Seminary in 2017. Her PhD concentration in Theology, Ethics, and Human Sciences informs her multivalent methodological approach to racial justice. She was the Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate Director of the Public Theology and Racial Justice Collaborative at Vanderbilt Divinity School. Dr. Smallwood now serves as the James Franklin Kelly and Hope Eyster Kelly Associate Professor of Public Theology at United Lutheran Seminary in Gettysburg, PA. Dr. Smallwood is licensed and ordained to public ministry in the Baptist tradition and most recently served as social justice minister for New Covenant Christian Church in Nashville, TN under the pastoral leadership of Rev. Dr. Judy Cummings.