It’s called a hate crime, not a ghost story

Paige Sheppard

Anyone who has ever lived in Andreen Hall knows the story of “Chauncey the Ghost,” but not everyone at Augustana College knows the story of Chauncey Morton. It’s time they should.

Chauncey was one of the few black students attending Augustana in the ‘50s. He was fatally shot in the head in his own room by a white student one Friday afternoon in October. Unsurprisingly, his killer, Richard Buchholtz, faced no charges. The only available information about what events led to his death are spotty. Too few people at Augustana cared about Chauncey enough to give him a voice after his death, or even enough to push for an honest account of how and why he died.

In recent years, Chauncey’s name has been turned into a ghost story to entertain freshmen, but when Chauncey was killed in 1958, Augustana did not recognize the horror story that his death truly was.

The limited information Augustana has today concerning this event is available in Special Collections and the Observer archive. The documents expose how Buchholtz changed his original story and even wiped his fingerprints off of the weapon before he alerted anyone of the shooting.

At first, Buchholtz claimed that he entered Chauncey’s room, saw him holding a gun, the two wrestled over it, and somehow it fired without his knowledge of who pulled the trigger. What I don’t understand is why Buchholtz entered Chauncey’s room in the first place and what series of events caused them to end up wrestling over the firearm.

Buchholtz also admitted that he knew Chauncey kept blanks in his gun and jokingly held the pistol up to his head to scare him – resulting in a bullet in Chauncey’s head. The Rock Island Police at this time called the killing a “friendly scuffle” and State’s Attorney, Bernard J. Moran, suggested it was nothing more than “horseplay.”

Not only is there no clear story of what truly happened on that day in 1958,

Buchholtz faced no legal consequences and he continued attending this school.

Although Augustana provided what they deemed an appropriate amount of sympathy to show after Chauncey’s death, they continued to ignore any potential motivation behind it. Augustana gave their sympathies but sought no justice.

They mourned the death of a student but not the taking of his life. They allowed spaces for black students to be threatened while protecting and continuously providing space for a killer. They have allowed Chauncey’s name to be forgotten in every aspect save the supernatural.

The worst part about this whole story is that black students on this campus are still being targeted, and every time they are, Augustana seems to forget the equality and justice and love they preach year after year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Black Student Union members Liv Phelps and Mikaylo Kelly shared gut-wrenching events that took place at Augustana only two years ago. The Black Culture House was defaced and vandalized with KKK propaganda, and the aggressors left a repulsive sign reading, “black lives are just matter.”

Augustana administration’s response? A campus-wide email disclosing a “bias incident.”

The school cared more about a missing couch from PepsiCo, offering a cash reward for anyone with information on the location of the couch, than they did about finding the perpetrators of this hate crime. Where was the cash reward for the Black Culture House?

Phelps argues, “We don’t see Augustana condemning racism the way they should.”

What I found most surprising about this story was the fact that I didn’t hear about it until I asked. The attack happened just months before I started attending this school in the fall of 2018. How come the conversation stopped? Perhaps because Augustana knows they could have done more. They should have done more.

When recalling the attack on the Black Culture House in 2018, Kelly expressed, “The term ‘Institutional Memory’ comes to mind. It refers to how it’s very convenient for institutions to not keep these really intense, uncomfortable, tragic, shameful incidents alive.”

To illustrate this feeling, Kelly shared lines from a poem they wrote in response to the hate crime two years ago that read: “Do we have the nerve to call violent hate crimes ‘bias incidents’/ to continue on with business as usual/ to be comfortable, dismissive and silent/ to conveniently forget or refuse to at least bear witness?”

Augustana itself has proven that the climate of this campus has not much changed since Chauncey was murdered in 1958. Sympathy is nothing but a raindrop in an ocean of injustice. We need to set better precedents at this school, own up to our mistakes and protect safe spaces for all students.

Still, there is no place on this campus commemorating Chauncey Morton. Augustana has an opportunity to show respect and reverence for the life of their former student by physically memorializing him somewhere on this campus.

Since those of us today had no control over how Chauncey was treated nearly 60 years ago, we now have the opportunity everyday to model a school in which he would have been seen as equal, loved as an individual and heard loud enough to know his name. I dare you to say it.