Monday, December 6

Racial Justice and the Long Shadow of Gettysburg

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Before leaving Gettysburg, I stop into the Ragged Edge cafe to meet with its owner, Jake Schindel, president of the borough council, and Charles Gable, the borough manager. In the wake of the George Floyd killing, someone living near Gettysburg, South Dakota , called Gable and asked if he could do anything about the South Dakota town’s police department using the Confederate flag on its uniforms and vehicles.

Gable and Schindel were reluctant to weigh in. “Personally,” says Schindel, “I do feel like the nation does need to have a reckoning on racism and slavery, but I’m also like,’OK, as a member of council, is it my position to be telling another place how to run their town, as much as I might disagree with it?’”

But then they began doing some research and learned that their sister city was founded by Union soldiers — and that the city adopted the Confederate symbol only in 2009. “If you look at their police cars,” says Schindel, “this thing rolls up with this emblem on it. Right there is a Confederate flag. I mean, how much more Dixie can you be in Gettysburg, South Dakota?” In addition, they learned that Gettysburg, South Dakota, is home to Selwyn Jones, George Floyd’s uncle. Gable called him to ask if he would support the council sending a letter. He would.

After voting down Schindel’s proposal to end the sister city relationship, the council approved a diplomatic letter Gable drafted explaining why their government supports Confederate symbols and monuments on the battlefield — it is effectively an enormous museum — but not for any government use. “These Confederate symbols recognize our troubled past, but they do not honor that past — rather they now exist to teach the wrongs of the past.” It’s the right principle — and yet, as Carmichael explained, it’s hardly the impression that many people take away from their battlefield visit.