Indeed, only a few years after the war a separate cemetery for black veterans was created in Gettysburg because they were “denied burial in the National Cemetery because of segregation policies,” according to a historical marker placed in 2003.
The Rev. John Spangler of the Gettysburg Lutheran Theological Seminary agreed that the stories of local African-Americans “have been far too invisible,” even at the seminary, which was founded in 1826. “We haven’t had the pride to tell it often and proudly enough,” he said, though that’s changing with new exhibits.
Nutter said she wouldn’t change her childhood in Gettysburg “for anything” and spoke of support from friends in the white community. But she also remembered a time when blacks weren’t allowed to sit downstairs in the local theatre, and that her mother used to tell stories about the Ku Klux Klan burning crosses in the yards of local families.
Jessie Smith, 64, recalled one local tavern that wouldn’t allow African-Americans to enter by the front door. Once inside, they had to sit on buckets, not chairs.
“My growing up, there was a lot of prejudice and racism,” she said.
Gettysburg wasn’t alone, according to Pennsylvania’s official Black History program, which notes that such discrimination continued through the 1950s and 1960s in many areas, including large cities.
“While there were no ‘White Only’ and ‘Colored Only’ signs to indicate a segregated facility in Pennsylvania, public places of business and recreation continued their distinctive Jim Crow approach that was informally in place,” the program notes.
Other Gettysburg African-Americans said there have been improvements in recent decades.
“I didn’t have many issues getting a job,” said Stephanie Moses, 47, who credits older African-Americans for breaking down racial barriers.
Nutter said the museum aims to communicate untold stories in order to “bring some semblance of peace and understanding” to Gettysburg’s complex racial legacy. Ultimately, it’s a message for people of all races, she said.
“All of us, we’re mixed with white, anyway,” Nutter said. “And today, at our reunions… there are mixed marriages like you wouldn’t believe. Who cares what color, or whatever, any more.”
“I hope this enlightens all people,” Nutter said of the museum. “I’m looking for love and peace and kindness among all people, regardless of race.”
But she added that “you’ve got to try and see things from other people’s viewpoint” in order to get that peace.