Eyewitness 1963: Gettysburg anniversary had civil rights as focus
Speakers at 100th anniversary of war's biggest battle stressed the ongoing campaign on behalf of minorities
June 9, 2013 4:00 AM
Ceremonies were held at the Peace Light Memorial on the Gettysburg Battlefield in 1963 to note the 100th anniversary of the battle.
By Len Barcousky Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Three hundred extra state troopers were posted to Gettysburg for the 100th anniversary commemoration of the battle, according to the July 1, 1963, edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
State police officers were present both for crowd control "and to cope as gently as possible with any possible racial demonstrations," said the story by The Associated Press. "There are rumors, though they are not solid, that Negroes may demonstrate for 'freedom now' as they have done in many communities in North and South."
As the United States marked the anniversary of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, the nation continued that summer to struggle with its failure to assure equal treatment under the law to African-Americans.
President John F, Kennedy had introduced civil rights legislation on June 19, but his bill was believed to have little chance of passage. A week earlier, Alabama Gov. George Wallace had stood in a campus doorway in an effort to stop enrollment of two black students at the state's public university.
In Mississippi, NAACP leader Medgar Evers was gunned down on June 12 in his driveway. Eight weeks after the Gettysburg events, the Rev. Martin Luther King would lead a "March on Washington" to push for voting rights, equal education opportunities and an end to housing discrimination.
Stories in The Pittsburgh Press and Post-Gazette over the next few days made no mention of civil rights protests at Gettysburg during the parades, commemorations and battle re-enactments. The struggle for equality, however, was on the minds of several prominent speakers.
About 3,000 people stood in the sun for a wreath-laying ceremony at the military park's Eternal Light Peace Memorial on July 1. That crowd was much smaller than officials had expected. Afternoon temperatures pushing 100 degrees likely kept down the numbers.
Governors from 29 states attended, including Pennsylvania's William Scranton and Alabama's Wallace. The heat turned the ceremony informal "as perspiring governors and other dignitaries on the monument stage shed their coats," the Post-Gazette reported on July 2.
Gov. Scranton, the main speaker at the Peace Memorial service, talked about business left over "from the war between brothers." That work included "the task of driving prejudice out of the human heart as least as readily as we are learning to drive men into outer space."
The new birth of freedom that Abraham Lincoln promised in his Gettysburg Address had been delayed, Mr. Scranton told the crowd. "Now the new freedom begins to move again, this time into stormy adolescence," he said. "In the South, in the North, in the West -- in every section of the nation men are called to look into their own hearts."
Many chief executives from other states attended similar rededication events at battlefield monuments to their soldiers. At one of those events, New Jersey Gov. Richard J. Hughes made the day's "strongest plea for full civil rights for all Negroes," the Post-Gazette reported.
"It is our shame at this moment that the full benefits of freedom are not in the possession of all Americans, a full century after the war which was fought to save America's soul," Gov. Hughes said.
He said inequality in America represented a "clear and present danger" to the nation's future, according to a Pittsburgh Press story on the same event. "The Civil War was not fought to preserve the Union 'lily white' or 'Jim Crow,'" the governor told the crowd. "It was fought for liberty and justice for all."