Professor Buzzkill: Rallies for “More History” at the Gettysburg Battlefield

Here’s an excellent conversation between host Professor Joseph Coohill, aka “Professor Buzzkill,” and Professor Scott Hancock at Gettysburg College on the “More History” rally at Gettysburg National Battlefield Park and other places across the nation.

The “More History” day was a response to the racist militias desecrating the Gettysburg National Battlefield on July 4, 2020. An earlier reaction occurred at the Journal of the Civil War Era, and you can see that here. As one of the four historians who responded in print, Professor Hancock contributed “Fear of a Black Planet, Part I,” In that essay he wrote of his attempts to add historical context to confederate displays in Gettysburg. His experiences in 2019 and 2020 are chilling in the violent threats and the profoundly ignorance of those who confronted him and their arrogance in their ignorance. “In 2019, David Seitz and I, he with his homemade sign and me with mine, marched alongside the Confederate reenactors and their flags during the Remembrance Day parade in November. We wanted people to remember what this cruel war was all about. We got separated at some point. Some people quietly expressed agreement with me. More people cursed, told me to read a book; one shop owner stormed out of his store and yelled that I was wrong and did not know history; another organizer of the parade screamed at me from across the street to ‘take that sign down!’ He and I, and several others, ended up having a long, polite conversation, and found a few points of agreement among many more points of disagreement. In 2020 an armed woman said she would kill anyone she saw burning a flag. People with what appeared to be AR-15s spread out around us in flanking maneuvers. At the Virginia monument, people yelled at me and my friend Clotaire Celius, who is clearly much darker-skinned than me and my, as Caroline Randall Williams might call it, rape-colored skin, to go back to Africa, and to go get our welfare checks, and of course they employed the N-word. People told Jimmy Schambach and his father Jim, and Gavin Foster, my three white friends who came out to help, that white people like them made them sick. My friend Shawn Palmer, a black retired state trooper and more accustomed to always scanning his surroundings, observed one man at the Mississippi monument as he slowly walked up behind me and put his hand on the gun in his belt. People took pictures of our license plates. The bikers refused to drive by us, waiting until we finally pulled out, and then followed us for two and a half miles, riding nearly right onto Shawn’s bumper. A few hours later, one of them followed Shawn again. Soon after that, in the National Cemetery, about a half hour after armed men and their sympathizers forced out a white local pastor wearing a BLM shirt, Clotaire and I walked in. We were unaware of the pastor’s experience. An older white man holding an American flag lectured us about how we black people had a lot of problems and needed to fix ourselves. When I asked him if white Americans should do likewise among themselves, he—no doubt emboldened by the one hundred or so white people around the only two black men in the cemetery—said no. We walked off mid-lecture. As Clotaire then astutely observed, ‘Why are they so afraid of two black men? They have guns. We have phones.’

Professor Hancock then concludes: “Public Enemy is still right. ‘All I got is genes and chromosomes’ along with five friends outfitted in shorts, flip flops, water bottles, cell phones, a few 4″ paper  BLM flags from my ancient printer at home taped to 1/8″ dowel rods, and two 28″ x 22″ signs in front of a forty-one foot concrete and bronze monument. With their AR-15s and assorted other guns, a few dozen people, “living in fear of my shade” plus truth and history, met us with anger and threats, unlike any other year the Confederacy has come back to Gettysburg. Fellow historians of every shade, we must respond.”

In “Fear of a Black Planet, Part 2,” Professor Hancock writes, “African Americans in positions to speak publicly in the years after the war understood what Public Enemy stated in 1990 about controlling the historical narrative. African Americans knew that Confederate efforts to reshape the war’s meaning had tangible, immediate consequences for Black freedom and opportunity. Black Southerners understood that, as Barbara Gannon has written, ‘civil war memory was crucial to Southerners’ battle to ensure Northern acquiescence to their answer to the race question—black oppression.’ And Black Southerners combined their warnings with a more accurate, fuller history of why the war was fought: to keep them as slaves. They knew that resisting new forms of Black subjugation to White Supremacy required a pointed and vigorous response, which included getting the history right. One hundred and fifty years later, we know that those warnings were not heeded, and that White Northerners for the most part did indeed acquiesce to White Southerners’ control of history. Historians: we have an obligation to respond. We want more history, not less. Whatever your political leanings, we are calling on you to respond to help correct a narrative, accepted and promulgated by far too many historians at every level of education for over a century, that has glorified the Confederacy through monuments that at a minimum ignore the Confederacy’s desire to maintain slavery, and that often insist the Confederacy was primarily about the honor and valor of soldiers who sacrificed for the ultimate good of national unity. We don’t know everything, but we do know that there’s much, much more to the story. So let’s be proactive in telling the stories that have too often been erased from the narrative, and do what African Americans have done since before the war even ended: remind people what the war was about. Let’s emancipate battlefields and other public spaces from the control of Confederate monuments that silence, obscure, and twist the past. Let’s free those spaces not with violence, not with threats, not only with calls for removal, but with more history. We are calling on you to respond to Public Enemy’s call: ‘History shouldn’t be a mystery / Our stories real history.’ “

The Professor Buzzkill episode’s description reads, “Professor Scott Hancock from Gettysburg College joins us to explain the development of efforts to contextualize and historicize the Confederate Monuments at the Gettysburg National Military Park. The summer of 2020 saw a great deal of tension and confrontation during these presentations. Dr. Hancock explains how this helped the ‘We Want More History’ movement. One of our best shows ever! Episode #393.”

You can access the podcast here.

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