Gettysburg and Lovejoy


There’s an ad campaign for Walgreens pharmacy on the radio that goes something like “at the corner of happy and healthy.” But if that were really the case, they wouldn’t sell cigarettes behind the counter the way that they do. It makes smokers happy, I’m sure, but it’s nowhere near healthy, either.

I mention this because the nation is now celebrating the 150th anniversary of the battle at Gettysburg. The importance of the battle in breaking the Confederate army and their hope of winning the war is well-known. Anyplace with a “Gettysburg” anything–be it a street, or a park, or anything else, is bound to be found in the union states, rather than in the old Confederacy. And that’s as it should be, I suppose.

So the reason why Gettysburg Street is located on the Northwest side of Chicago, instead of in Charleston, South Carolina or anyplace else in the Southern states is easy to understand. But Chicago, whether intentionally or not, ups the ante in its Northern/Union street naming by having a “Lovejoy” Street which intersects with Gettysburg Street.

There were two notable Lovejoys that the street could be named after. Elijah Lovejoy was an abolitionist editor of the Alton Observer, a newspaper that published Abolitionist ideas in an area of Southern Illinois that was sympathetic to slavery. Lovejoy was killed by a pro-slavery mob in 1837, defending the printing press that he used to strike out against slavery. His brother, Owen Lovejoy, witnessed the murder, and he too became committed to the Abolitionist cause. He was a conductor on the Underground railroad, and he helped to recruit Abraham Lincoln into the Republican party. He’s certainly worthy of having his name attached to a street, but only in places where Confederate sympathizers are nowhere in sight.

So as the Gettysburg anniversary celebration continues this week, let’s also remember Lovejoy and his fellow agitators who forced an issue that, in hindsight, needed all the forcing it could get. The intersection of Gettysburg and Lovejoy–metaphorically– is a place where slavery and the Confederate cause went to die a bloody death. But die it did, and America is so much better for it.

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