Since the first slave arrived in 1639 life has been persistently difficult for black residents of ‘The First State.’ From the comparatively generous corporate tax structure to the tax free shopping, Delaware attracts a great deal of wealth and commerce. But while the profits are rolling in, there is an entire demographic continually being left behind. Forgotten in the cogs and creases of the corporate machine if you look you’ll find a people that were not yet ‘people’ until 1901, long after the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments were ratified. Delaware is first in apartheid.
Black Delawareans are systematically and institutionally stymied by defacto apartheid time and memorial. Delaware’s racist and draconian Black Codes preceded those of the Deep South. Despite the unprofitability of chattel slavery in Delaware by the 1860’s, slave owners rejected the Compensated Emancipation Plan from President Lincoln. From 1865 through 1965 the status quo in Delaware maintained a Jim Crow system akin to the deep south. An example of Delaware’s historic pattern of race discrimination is well documented in how black children received differential treatment in education, and unbeknownst to most Americans plaintiffs from Delaware were part of the Brown v Education Supreme Court decision of 1954. Whereas other states abandoned systemic Jim Crow education and/or mass resistance to school desegregation by the early 1970’s Delaware continued its hardline commitment to denying equal education to its black youth until 1995. Delaware, The First State is last in ending slavery, last in granting citizenship, last in desegregating schools, and last in ending lynching.
In 2010 pamphlets circulating throughout Kent County, DE, illustrating of a young black man hanging with the words ‘Cleaning Up The Streets One Ni**er at a Time’. This shocked the campus of historically black college Delaware State University. Over the last decade 5 known suspicious hangings and multiple accidental drownings have gripped Kent County’s black community. Despite compelling evidence of foul play and the work of a few committed activists and local politicians, incidents were played down and swiftly filed away.
Devoid of thorough investigative procedure, families were barred from access to the deceased for days, clothes were washed without warning, and autopsies were breezed over or skipped altogether. Each incident was quickly ruled suicide and families were left with more questions than answers. There was one survivor of an attempted lynching in 2012, and despite his testimony, a recorded 911 call, witnesses, sworn statements to The Attorney General and a Dover Human Relations Commission, his story was discredited and suppressed.
Unremarkable investigative work reveals requisite federal involvement. The victims and families are due justice and closure. Black Delawareans are at risk while suspicious hangings and drownings persist. There is a bright future for our nation but it is necessitated largely upon equal protection under the law for all citizens regardless of race or ethnicity. It’s time that Delaware, The First State, lead the way and set an example of how justice works.
‘Protecting Our Own’
Online Reference Links
Dover Delaware’s Strange Fruit Blog with References
People’s Champion Blog with References
Silver Lake Park Isn’t Safe
Dover Human Relation Commission on Lynching
2012 Delaware Lynchings Part 1: Henry Fordham Story Part 1
2012 Delaware Lynchings Part 1: Henry Fordham Story Part 2
Researching The Underground Railroad in Delaware
The Slow Road Back: Federal Oversight Lifted in ‘95 Neighborhood Schools Act of 2000
The Proving Ground: The Decline of Slavery and the Emergence of Black Codes in Antebellum Delaware
Slavery in Delaware; Report produced by the Committee on Slavery of the Diocese of Delaware 2009
The Courts, the Legislature, and Delaware’s Resegregation: A Report on School Segregation in Delaware, 1989-2010
Black Americans in Delaware: An Overview, James E. Newton, University of Delaware