Speaking in Gettysburg on Memorial Day of the 100th year of the battle, Vice President Johnson delivered a thoughtful speech addressing the need for inclusivity and racial reconciliation.
Our nation found its soul in honor on these fields of Gettysburg one hundred
years ago. We must not lose that soul in dishonor now on the fields of hate.
Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson
Memorial Day, Gettysburg, Pa.
May 30, 1963
A son of the South and Confederate ancestry, Johnson stressed the need for healing and civil rights reform in that “we must be about the business of resolving the challenge which confronts us now.”
Racial issues were not reconciled at Gettysburg. Nor were they resolved by the ending of the Civil War or abolished with the Civil Rights Act, signed by President Johnson in 1964.
At Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln reminded us that we are a nation “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” One-hundred years later, Vice President Lyndon Johnson reminded us that we still had still “fallen short of assuring freedom to the free.”
There is still “unfinished work” to do in hopes of establishing a “new birth of freedom.”
Let us pray for wise and understanding hearts. Let us lay aside irrelevant differences and make our nation whole.
President Lyndon B. Johnson
upon signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act
We can, however, take inspiration from those in and around Gettysburg.
- In addition to interring Union soldiers in the newly-established Gettysburg National Cemetery, Basil Biggs joined with other African American citizens to form the Sons of Goodwill to purchase land for a cemetery to serve Gettysburg’s African American community and Civil War veterans. The resulting Goodwill Cemetery – now the Lincoln Cemetery – serves as the final resting place for Biggs, many of the town’s earliest black residents and more than 30 veterans of the United States Colored Troops who had been denied burial in the National Cemetery under segregation policies.
- Colors bearer Joseph H. De Castro of the 19th Massachusetts Infantry became the first Hispanic-American to receive the Medal of Honor when he seized the flag of the 19th Virginia regiment during Pickett’s Charge.
- Lydia Hamilton Smith hired a horse and wagon and collected supplies from neighbors for the wounded on both sides of the battle.
These lessons remain relevant to us now.
It’s another way to look at Gettysburg and ourselves. This is Gettysburg Revisited.