The Gettysburg Redress
by Michael Oberlin
On Friday, September 3rd, a large crowd of people gathered outside the Schmucker building on Gettysburg College campus. Several roads were closed, and security officers were swarming across the site. The issue was central to Gettysburg’s history, as the turning point of the civil war and as far north as the Confederate Army ever advanced. It was none other than an art exhibit, the John Sims “Recoloration Proclamation.”
Within the exhibit, contemporary acid jazz plays over a speaker system. In the corner, a Confederate flag hangs from a gallows like a lynched slave. All around the room are alterations of the Confederate flag, hanging honorably from the walls and gracing the floor. At the far end, hung within direct sight of the entry, is his controversial “Gettysburg Redress. ”
Now and then, Sims’ voice, distorted in an ear-catching fashion, reads from it. It begins accusingly. “Many years ago a group of men brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in ‘Liberty’, implemented through the genocide of the Natives and the enslavement of the Africans, and dedicated unequivocally to the proposition that white folks are more equal than others.” He lays down the facts plainly and without any apology. But as he continues, his proposition becomes less accusing and more progressive.
“The confederate flag hangs as an act of closure,” the voice speaks, “as an act of salvation, in the recurring nightmare of an incredibly divisive chapter in American history, forging new ground for healing and forgiveness.” Sims shows pride in his own southern heritage, one unlike any white American’s. The ground remains a space not only of portrayal, but of exaltation.
His new portrayals of a unified south include many re-colored confederate flags, green and orange, white and black. Some are similar to the modern United States flag, but with changes including only three stripes and seven stars, or the pattern of the confederate flag where the blue banner should be.
A favorite, for entertainment’s sake, is his “drag flag.” This flag is in purple and flaming pink, with feathers along its outlines and silvery strips of foil hanging from its stars. At its base, appropriately, is a pair of slippers.
The exhibit was not greeted by all. Many threats of protest were sent to the college for hosting the event. The most active protest was on Thursday, September 2nd, the evening before the show. A number of people showed up for a candlelight vigil. Purportedly, the numbers were disappointing and the group went home.
Perhaps this was for the best. The gallery gives one a sense of resolution, and pride. It was never meant to ridicule southern pride, but to embrace it. Sims reminds us all that there are many kinds of southerners, and they all have their roots.
“This space is also dedicated to those who hold this flag in great esteem and honor,” he concludes. “Let us retire this flag to the annals of history and search within our creative structures for new symbols that both celebrate and honor our heritage as Southerners, as Americans, and as Humans.”
The gallery is open to the public until September 26th, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends. It is located at Schmucker Hall, 300 North Washington Street.
Gettysburg College will sponsor several other galleries this year, including collections by the students, the faculty, Lori Crawford, Catherine Widgery, and a band of Chinese artists. Information can be found on the college’s website, at www.gettysburg.edu.