Gettysburg, then and now

The names and faces of war casualties take up two walls of the Gettysburg exhibit and still represent a small fraction of those who died during three days of fighting in early July 1863. The death toll reached 11,000. There were another 40,000 casualties — wounded, captured or missing. 

A visit last week to the Civil War battleground museum in Gettysburg served as a reminder of how far we’ve come in the past 153 years and, jarringly, how far we still have to go.

As one museum plaque says, “Americans fought one another over three fundamental issues: the survival of the Union, the fate of slavery, and the common rights of citizenship — what it means to be American. The war resolved the first two issues. The nation struggles with the third to this day.”  

Another plaque notes that people living in the United States in the mid- to late 1800s “included new immigrants, American Indians, slaves, free blacks – men, women, and children. But with a few exceptions, only white males over 21 enjoyed all the rights of citizenships, including the right to vote.”

Sadly, not only do efforts to impose voting restrictions prevail, but so does the inhumane treatment of those living within the nation’s borders, including the most recent iteration of a relentless crackdown on immigrant communities — the recent separation of nearly 2,000 immigrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexican border, a practice condemned by the American Academy of Pediatrics for causing “irreparable harm.”

Gettysburg Address

“Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

So begins the Gettysburg Address, a speech of a mere 272 words that Abraham Lincoln gave at a memorial service for the thousands who perished on 9.3 square miles of land in and around Gettysburg, PA. 

At the time, the Gettysburg Address received mixed reviews. Some gave it high praise. “His little speech is a perfect gem; deep in feeling, compact in thought and expression, and tasteful and elegant in every word and comma,” said the Republican, published in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Others did not. “The ceremony was rendered ludicrous by some of the sallies of that poor President Lincoln. Anything more dull and commonplace it would not be easy to produce,” said the London Times.

The photo above depicts a distant view of the monument marking the place where Lincoln spoke. The monument is surrounded by low lying cement markers for the deceased. Today, visitors honor the site by placing pennies — heads up — on the monument and nearby tombstones.


Ghost Tours

As one might expect, ghost tours abound in Gettysburg. Asked about the possibility of encountering ghoulish specters in and around town, a park ranger rolled his eyes. “I’ve been on the battlefield all hours of the night and day, and I’ve never seen a ghost,” he said. But the tours, he added, offer up insights into what happened in the days leading up to, during, and after the single most pivotal and bloody battle in the Civil War. 



Home Ownership for a Future Demographic

UNC Study Rekindles the Dream

The emergence of subprime lending in the 1990s and 2000s steered many minority and low-income borrowers toward highly volatile loans. These unsustainable lending practices contributed to the boom and the subsequent bust in the housing market, resulting in an aversion to low-income home loans. Against this backdrop, the University of North Carolina’s Center for Community Capital conducted a study of mortgages provided to 46,000 low-income households, and they found that neither one’s low-income or minority status is to blame. “When done right,” says Roberto Quercia, director of the center, “lending to low-income, low-wealth families who are not traditional borrowers actually works.”

It works, he says, when the loans are “tried and true” 30-year, fixed rate mortgages based on documented income; it does not work when the loans have high-risk caveats – e.g., teaser rates, balloon payments, high interest rates, and prepayment penalties. “This is not rocket science,” Quercia says. “How good or bad the mortgage is amplifies whatever risk you have as a borrower.”

The results of the study have been compiled in a book called “Regaining the Dream: How to Renew the Promise of Home Ownership for America’s Working Families.” The book shows how this group of low-income homeowners weathered the crisis with a 7.6 percent delinquency rate and a 4.2 percent foreclosure rate, both below the national average. “The lesson learned from the book,” Quercia says, “is don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” The market of the future is going to look a lot like the 46,000 people studied – borrowers of color and immigrants, both first and second generation, who have lower incomes and lower wealth. Therefore it would be wise, he says, to keep effective programs in place and expand on those that truly benefit low-income households.