BLACKS IN GETTYSBURG WANT THEIR STORIES TOLD; 150 Years after Battle, Residents Push for Museum to Highlight Valor during Civil War, Discrimination After
Begos, Kevin, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
GETTYSBURG, Pa. * Gettysburg's small African-American community proudly tells stories of ancestors who fought in the Civil War, of a young woman who shook President Abraham Lincoln's hand and of the men who buried thousands of bodies after the battle.
But they also speak of a struggle to preserve that history and of discrimination that continued long after the war ended even where Lincoln himself reminded Americans of our defining ideal: that all men are created equal.
"Our story here in this town, and in this state, and in this country has not been told," said Mary Alice Nutter, 68, who has been working to fulfill her mother's dying wish for an African-American history museum in the town where Union soldiers turned the tide of the Civil War, helping to end slavery in the United States.
A century and a half after the Battle of Gettysburg, the nascent museum project is aimed not only at chronicling the deeds of black soldiers and those who buried the dead, but also the experiences of their descendants who can recall a civil rights struggle that persists .
Nutter and other members of the community have been collecting photographs, historical records, and oral histories for the museum project currently housed in a small temporary space.
One picture shows William Francis Penn, a Gettysburg battlefield guide, posing with a group of well-dressed African-Americans in front of a 1920s auto. Another is of Cecilia Eliza Jane Biggs who shook Lincoln's hand in a Victorian dress. There's the story of local veterinarian Basil Biggs, who was one of the men who received 4 cents per body to bury the dead after the battle, and the white Wert family, who aided the Underground Railroad.
Nutter, whose great-great-grandfather, Lloyd F.A. Watts, served in the Union Armyand went on to become a respected teacher and preacher, said the project aims to correct a historical oversight: When she grew up, local schools didn't mention that African- Americans fought during the Civil War or that segregation was being openly practiced in Gettysburg until the 1960s.
The path hasn't always been easy, but about two years ago she found Ron Bailey, a partner with new skills and energy. After retiring from a career with IBM, Bailey has tirelessly campaigned for the museum. "What we do have is one of the most amazing stories of black people in the U. …