The topic will be discussed during two programs offered by the Dauphin County Library System this month.
“It’s no longer a debate—the facts and evidence show the answer is slavery,” said Scott Hancock, associate professor of history and Africana studies at Gettysburg College (pictured).
Hancock will be speaking at Harrisburg’s East Shore Area Library the evening of Feb. 11 and, a week later, at the city’s Madeline L. Olewine Memorial Library the evening of Feb. 18.
“Black men, women and children—the most powerless people at the time—making the decision to escape to the north causes the Civil War,” Hancock said. “How and why people at the bottom of society can cause a war is the focus of the talk.”
Titled “The American Civil War: A War for Freedom,” the event is the first in what the library is calling the “Hari Jones Hidden Histories Program.” In honor of Black History Month, the program pays homage to noted historian Hari Jones, who impacted the lives of many in Harrisburg and passed away in 2018.
“Hari was a guy with a salt-and-pepper beard and dreadlocks from Oklahoma—a Marine who was conservative and Constitutional,” said Dauphin County Commission Chairman Jeff Haste. “And Hari came to love Harrisburg because of the history that was here.”
It was Haste who approached the library with the idea to honor Jones’ legacy. Jones served as assistant director and curator at the African American Civil War Freedom Foundation and Museum in Washington, D.C., and as a board member for Harrisburg’s National Civil War Museum. He was also instrumental in guiding the county’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Celebration in 2013 and MLK 50 Commemoration in 2018.
When it came to history, Hari Jones was especially known for one catch phrase: “Go to the original sources.” “I heard that a hundred times from him,” Haste said.
That encouragement, to dig into history and locate original historical accounts and documents, describes Hancock’s methodology as well.
“Hari Jones focused on primary sources and using those to bring out the stories of the marginalized, those we don’t usually think of having important roles in society,” Hancock said. “Most of what I do is like that.”
In addition to the program series, the library has established the Hari Jones Hidden Histories Collection, a curated companion collection of books and materials.
“We didn’t want to put up a plaque—we wanted to do something that was a living honor to him,” said Karen Cullings, the library system’s executive director.
Public programs where people can explore new ideas—such as the Hari Jones Hidden Histories Program—are, in fact, an essential component of the library system’s strategic plan, about to be released.
“We’ve been going out, talking to community groups and individuals about what kind of community they want to live in,” Cullings said. “One of the most common themes to come out is that people feel disconnected and isolated. So, we want to give people the opportunity to reconnect and the ability to talk about different topics…with the library serving as a community catalyst for positive change.”
And learning about history, Hancock said, helps people better understand the present.
“People who often say history is all in the past…often have a selective desire to ignore certain parts of history,” Hancock said. “If you don’t understand why we still have residential segregation or schools, or how those things developed, any answers you have for meeting those problems will be oversimplified and won’t work.”
Additionally, “hidden histories” are still being discovered, revealing new insights and casting history in a new light.
“Related to my own personal identity and belief system, I would argue that we’re all made in the image of God, so all stories matter,” Hancock said. “Black women and men in the poor bottom of society are important…giving voice to those stories matters because that’s how we would all feel.”
“The American Civil War: A War for Freedom,” the inaugural Hari Jones Hidden Histories Program, will be held at the East Shore Area Library on Feb. 11 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. and at the Madeline L. Olewine Memorial Library on Feb. 18 from 6 to 7 p.m. Registration is available at dcls.org/harijones.