Gettysburg College, in the center of that national military shrine of the Western Hemisphere’s bloodiest battle, plans to allow a black militant artist named John Sims to “lynch” the Confederate Battle Flag from the top of a 13-foot gallows.
“We have freedom of expression on this campus, of course. We are prepared for demonstration,” said Kendra Branchick, media relations director for the 2,500 student school, affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.
The event is scheduled for Sept. 3.
When asked if such demonstrations were to include U.S. flag burners coming from New York protests against the Republican convention, who, without violence, burned U.S. flags because, for 86 years, it was the flag of a slave nation, Ms. Branchick replied:
“The campus is private property. Sims can come here because he has been invited.”
But how is that freedom of expression?
Branchick replied: “Even those who are protesting in an orderly manner, on or off campus, will be protected.”
Even if they peacefully burn the United States flag?
“I can’t make a comment at this time,” she said. “Our campus police chief is presently meeting with the borough police chief. And the Pennsylvania State Police are involved, as well.”
How about the Pennsylvania National Guard?
“I can’t comment.”
At the Gettysburg Police Department, a spokeswoman for Chief Rolf Garcia said the chief will not comment.
But Branchick added that any gathering or assembly anywhere in the borough must obtain a permit, for $15. Whether to grant such a permit is decided by Gettysburg’s mayor, police chief and parking department.
Asked if peaceful U.S. flag-burners would be denied a permit, District Attorney Sean Wagner said, “I will provide no opinions on future events. But I have been in contact with the police on this subject.”
At the Gettysburg Chamber of Commerce, a spokeswoman said in answer to all questions that the president of the Chamber is at work on a statement on this issue.
That statement will have to do with the considerable amount of revenue brought to Gettysburg by descendents and supporters of the 75,000 Confederate soldiers who fought, bled and died in this three-day battle.
Some of those Confederate soldiers were black—and they were welcomed to the 50th anniversary of the battle in 1913.
At the Gettysburg Police Department, the chief’s spokeswoman said she was not aware of any gathering, parade, or anniversary permit sought by, or granted to, H.K. Edgerton of North Carolina.
But in Black Mountain, N.C., attorney Kirk Lyons of the Southern Legal Resource Center said that Gettysburg Police Chief Garcia told him: “Work out details with our attorney, Harvey Eastman, and I’ll sign any permit that comes across my desk.”
Lyons said: “The Pennsylvania Chapters of the Sons of Confederate Veterans are, on Thursday night Sept. 2nd planning to line up at least 30 on the edge of the college campus. And on Friday night, at the same time of this college lynching, we’ll have a large gathering at the Peace Monument.”
From this Legal Resource Center came the following statement concerning H.K. Edgerton, a former officer of the NAACP:
The lynching ceremony, titled, “The Proper Way to Hang a Confederate Flag,” will kick off an exhibition called “Recoloration Proclamation: The Gettysburg Redress” by artist John Sims. It also will feature Confederate flags that Sims has rendered in alternate colors, including African liberation colors and two “drag flags” done in pink and lavender and trimmed with spangles.
But it is the elaborate lynching ceremony—an act of symbolically “killing” the Confederate flag—that will bring him and numbers of Southern heritage defenders to Gettysburg, according to Edgerton.
“We concede the right to artistic expression,” he said. “Sims is an avant-garde ‘artist’ and this is how he promotes himself and gets free publicity for his ‘art.’ But the lynching thing is a hate crime, pure and simple. It is a mean-spirited, vicious, deliberate piece of propaganda and Sims knows it. He has an agenda. He has a right to create what he wants, but he is also answerable for the consequences of his actions.”
Edgerton says news of Sims’ project is causing a groundswell of resentment across the South, where it is seen as yet another example of Confederate-bashing that has been steadily intensifying for the past twenty years.
“This sort of thing is very inflammatory,” he said. “It contributes to the climate that results in people being fired or beaten up or worse for displaying Confederate symbols.”
Edgerton, chairman of the Board of Advisors of the Southern Legal Resource Center, has logged more than 3,000 miles walking across the South carrying a Confederate flag. He is expected to march into Gettysburg from Chambersburg on Sept. 2, following the route that elements of Robert E. Lee’s army used in July of 1863.
Thursday night near Gettysburg College, Edgerton plans to have a candlelight reading of the names of all Confederate soldiers who died on the field at Gettysburg. A bell will be rung after the reading of each name.
Edgerton’s claim of hate-inspired violence against the Confederate community is not idle, he says, and Sims’ “lynching” a Confederate flag is an accurate characterization of what is happening to the Confederate community. Lynching by definition is a killing by mob action without legal sanction or due process.
“That is actually what is happening to Confederate symbols and people today!” Edgerton said.
He added, “The Confederate Community comes to Gettysburg bearing an olive branch to Mr. Sims. Our message to him is: Stop the hatred! Stop this lynching! The War is over!”