By JOHN MESSEDER – Times Staff Writer
About 30 people gathered at the North Washington Street wall of Schmucker Memorial Hall Thursday night to hear a reading of 3,712 names of Confederate soldiers who died on the Gettysburg battlefield in July 1863.
“I am more than anything else a Southern man,” exclaimed H.K. Edgarton — “H.K.” to those who greeted him by name.
He said he was in Gettysburg as a “loyal Confederate” in response to the hatred embodied in an art display opening at Gettysburg College Friday evening.
“I’m standing not only for folks that looked like me, but for my whole Southern family,” he said.
Edgarton said Sims had a right to create the work, in which a Confederate battle flag is to be “lynched,” and other flags, representing the Confederate States of America and other, more modern, countries, have been recolored.
The exhibit, titled “The Recoloration Proclamation: The Gettysburg Redress,” opens at 6 p.m. in Schmucker Memorial Hall, and is scheduled to run until Sept. 26. The college has stood by the project as a freedom of speech issue, and Edgarton acknowledged Sims had a right to create it.
But he said he wanted to speak to Sims. He called Gettysburg “a place of healing,” and called Sims’ work “a movement toward derailing that healing.” He compared the exhibit with publicity efforts “of the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups.”
He repeatedly referred to the Stars and Bars flag as the Christian Cross of St. Andrew, at one point turning toward the brick building and exclaiming, “I am heritage, not hate.”
As the small crowd held lit candles, someone read the 91st Psalm, followed by a rousing a capella rendition of Dixie in which most of the audience joined.
Then Edgarton began reading the names. After each name, and the state from which the soldier had come, a bell tolled.
After about 10 minutes, Edgarton surrendered his position to another reader. The position-trading would go on until all the names had been read.
During the name recital, Brag Bowling, National Press Officer for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, decried the exhibit. He said the flag represented many southerners who, like his great-great grandfather, fought for the Confederacy, but not to support slavery. He described his ancestor as a farmer who had no slaves, but fought as an artillery man at Gettysburg, with A.P. Hill’s corps.
He referred to a boycott called earlier this week in which the SCV called on its 30,000 members to stay out of Gettysburg.
“What we look for is something (from the borough) condemning the college for this,” Bowling said. “I think the SCV would probably call it (the boycott) off.”
In spite of several reports of possible confrontation, and an obviously visible police presence, the presentation Thursday night appeared headed for a peaceful conclusion.
“I wasn’t expecting anything with these folks,” said Gettysburg Police Chief Rolf Garcia.
He said the greater possibility for trouble would be Friday night, when the exhibit opens.
A concurrent gathering of the SCV is slated to occur at the Peace Light memorial.
At least three other groups reportedly have obtained permits for public gatherings.
© Copyright 2004 – Times and News Publishing Company