The high water mark of white supremacy

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In 1993, I visited the Gettysburg Memorial in Pennsylvania. At the time, I was living in Philadelphia. I was doing a ministry internship and lived on the street where the Battle of Germantown took place on October 4, 1777, a battle that nearly ended the revolution.

During that year I went to Gettysburg, Pa., And stayed at the Lutheran seminary for a few days on vacation. Visiting Gettysburg Cemetery and learning about the three day battle was amazing. It was the first major invasion of the Confederate army in the north and the two armies converged on this small town. As the battle took place July 1-3, 1863, I think about it now every July 4th.

Seven and twenty years ago and 18 years ago, this battle was the “culmination” of the Civil War and Confederation to maintain slavery. The Southern Army charged on the Union lines on this third day. The flooding of southern troops on open farmland is known as the “Pickett Charge”.

This charge was bloody and was the ‘high water mark’ because it was the climax where the deluge of war would break the barrage and levies of the Union resolution and flood the north where the Union would hold, and the waters of the invasion would recede south.

Union lines held, and retreating forces drained into southern territory. Gettysburg was the “culmination” of Southern aggression and white supremacy. The war will continue in the south for another two years before the Southern Confederacy surrenders.

White supremacy would ride the waves for generations to the north and south. The waves included Jim Crow, redlining, and segregation – some of the many institutionalized forms of white supremacy and domestic terrorism.

Far too many people have died or been killed by the waves of white supremacy. Yes, there have been roadblocks to push back the waves of “white supremacy,” including the civil rights movement, the desegregation of the army by Truman in the 1950s, the anti-lynching law, the civil rights, the voting rights law and the ripple changes since the murder of George Floyd.

Twenty-five weeks and four days ago another white supremacist “climax” took place. The January 6 insurgency and coup attempt was led by thousands of white people and a president wanting to change the results of an election.

This was indeed rooted in an internal civil conflict of those who dislike the diversity of the American landscape and the dismantling of the white quota system. That day marked a day when whites wanted to go back to a day when whites could do whatever they wanted to people of color. The good old days were not good for millions of people.

Like the high water mark in Gettysburg, let’s not forget the roots of white supremacy that led to January 6. Let’s not use the fear of the other to reject inclusion.

Let us be wary of future waves of suppression and exclusion that descend on the shores of democracy. Let us not cling to exclusionary patterns. Let us abandon white supremacy to a desire to be honest about our history so that “these dead do not die in vain” and that we have “a new birth of freedom” (Lincoln speech at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863).

Michael Thomas is the senior pastor of the Lutheran Church in Zion.


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