The history and life experiences of black Americans has been long
neglected and continues to provide important opportunities for
research. In his pioneering work on blacks in American history,
George Washington Williams, a minister and America's first significant
black historian, wrote in 1882, "I have tracked my bleeding
countrymen through the widely scattered documents of American
history. . . ." Anyone attempting research on the history
of black Americans in Delaware and the Eastern Shore will certainly
find Williams' comments appropriate. The purpose of this essay
is to provide a general overview of the historical experience
of African Americans in Delaware. A chronological pattern has
divided the discussion into four historical periods: 1639-1787;
1787-1865; 1865-1930; and 1930-the present.
In the Beginning: 1639-1787
The history of the black population in the English colonies in North America began in 1619 with the sale of 20 servants to settlers in Jamestown. Delaware's first settlers were the Swedes and the Dutch. In their quest for power, the Dutch took over from the Swedes, but in 1664, were driven out of Delaware by their colonial rivals, the English. Historical documents record the first black in Delaware territory was Anthony, who was captured by the skipper of the Grip in 1638. In 1639, "Black Anthony" was delivered to Fort Christina and nine years later served as special assistant to Governor Printz.
In 1721, an estimated 2,000-5,000 slaves lived in Pennsylvania and the three lower counties on the Delaware (New Castle, Kent, and Sussex). Possibly 500 of this number resided in the three lower counties. Most of the slaves and free blacks in the three lower counties worked as farm laborers or as domestic servants. European indentured servants could not supply the demand for labor, so the difference was made up by slaves. Well-to-do planters in Kent County (e.g., Nicholas Loockerman, John Vining, and Dr. Charles Ridgely) owned large numbers of slaves.
Some slaves were trained for jobs other than farming or domestic service. In 1762, John Dickinson, one of Delaware's most prominent revolutionary statesmen and a Quaker, in advertising his plantation for rent, mentioned that the renter might secure the services of slaves trained as tanners, shoemakers, carpenters and tailors as well as in farm work, providing that they were treated kindly. Other slaves were trained as foundry men. Advertisements of runaway slaves from the lower counties reported some who knew how to play the violin and to read and write.
The socialization of blacks was controlled in Delaware by an act of 1700 entitled, "For the trial of Negroes." This policy marked 150 years of discriminatory legislation. Blacks were given more severe penalties than whites for certain crimes, prohibited from carrying weapons or assembling in large numbers, and were subject to special court procedures. Later laws placed even greater restrictions on them by prohibiting voting, holding office, giving evidence against whites, and banning mixed marriages. On the eve of the American Revolution, so many slaves resided in the colony that some inhabitants feared an insurrection. The General Assembly passed an act in 1773 raising the duty to 20 pounds for bringing an individual slave into the Lower counties with the explanation that numerous plots and insurrections in mainland America had resulted in the murders of several inhabitants.
The best estimates are that the three lower counties contained 2,000 blacks in 1775, with each county containing approximately one-third of the total. In view of the great increase of black inhabitants by 1790, the figure may be underestimated.
The General Assembly, in 1775, attempted to prohibit both the import and export of slaves, but Governor John Penn vetoed the measure. The Constitution of 1776 provided that "No person hereafter imported into this state from Africa ought to be held in slavery under any pretense whatever, and no Negro, Indian or mulatto slave ought to be brought into this state for sale from any part of the world." In spite of this clause, some blacks were illegally sold or kidnapped, and farmers who owned land on Maryland's Eastern Shore were entitled, with court permission, to take slaves across the border. Later legislation severely punished kidnappers and tried to ensure that slaves were not sold out of the state or brought into it.
During the American Revolution, the black population of Delaware made a great contribution to American victory as toilers of the soil and in general services. Delaware blacks served as express riders, supervisors of horses, and teamsters. Others showed their loyalty by paying taxes in bushels of wheat for the support of the army, just as their white neighbors did.
In his formative years, African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Richard Allen, of Kent County, aided the American cause by driving a salt wagon from Lewes. Perhaps some of his cargo reached Washington's army.
Delaware Quakers, inspired by Warner Mifflin of Kent County, began to free their slaves in 1775. Many followed their example. John Dickinson manumitted more than a score of slaves of his St. Jones' Neck estate in Kent County in 1777. Dickinson also provided education for his slaves' children.
Another revolutionary leader of Kent County, Caesar Rodney, arranged for the manumission of his slaves in his will at his death in 1784. In spite of such efforts, the census of 1790 listed 8,887 slaves and 3,899 free blacks.
Statehood to the Civil War: 1787-1865
When the new federal constitution was completed in September 1787, it was sent to the states for approval. Delaware was the first state to take action. On December 7, 1787, at a state convention in Dover, the new constitution was unanimously ratified making Delaware the first state to join the Union.
Statehood in Delaware, like other states, raised several serious questions about slavery, colonization, manumission, and the legal status of free blacks in the state. Although state law forbade the sale of slaves out of the state, efforts to transport them for this purpose illicitly continued at the end of the 18th century. Occasionally, free blacks were kidnapped and sold as slaves. Freedmen found it wise to deposit apprentice and freedom papers with the Pennsylvania Abolition Society in Philadelphia.
Some Delawareans were interested in manumission, but only if the freedmen returned to Africa. In 1827, the Wilmington Union Colonization Society petitioned the legislature for approval of such an objective. The Assembly passed a resolution approving the goals of the Society.
Wilmington blacks took a different view of colonization. At a meeting in 1831, they expressed the opinion that colonization was not in the best interest of the black race and was at variance with the principle of civil and religious liberty. They also saw it as incompatible with the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Delawareans, mostly Quakers, organized the Delaware Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery in 1788. About the same year, the Delaware Society for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery was also formed. These societies did outstanding work in protecting free blacks from kidnapping and in encouraging slave owners to free their slaves. However, there were other forces attempting to keep slaves in bondage. The most notorious slavenapper was Patty Cannon who, with her son-in-law Joe Johnson, ran a tavern on the Delaware-Maryland line in Sussex County. She had been accused of kidnapping blacks for sale to slave traders and of murder. She was under indictment for her notorious activities when she died in jail at Georgetown in 1829.
Support for Delaware's black populace was best exemplified through Thomas Garrett, a Wilmington businessman and Quaker. In a letter to a New York state abolitionist in 1858, he claimed to have aided 2,152 blacks escape (by the time of the Civil War, the figure was over 2,700). In 1848, he was fined $5,400 for assisting runaway slaves. His property was sold at a sheriff's sale. Later, with the aid of friends, he successfully re-established himself in business.
Black abolitionists also aided members of their race in escaping. Abraham D. Shadd, a Wilmington shoemaker, was active in the Underground Railroad and in working for black rights. Samuel Burris, of Kent County, was a black conductor on the Underground Railroad. Jailed in Dover for his activities and sold into servitude, he found--to his pleasant surprise--his Quaker friends had arranged to buy his time. Famed heroine Harriet Tubman, known for her Underground Railroad activities, frequently led slaves to freedom from the Eastern Shore of Maryland. She and Garrett formed one of the most successful teams on the Underground Railroad.
The number of slaves in Delaware decreased rapidly from almost 9,000 in 1790 to half that number in 1820. By 1860, the number had decreased to 1,798. The usual explanation given is humanitarianism and religious feeling, abolitionist efforts, and runaways. In reality, Delaware farmers found it cheaper to hire free black labor than to keep slaves. Furthermore, Delaware, the most northern of the slave states, had no great crop of tobacco or cotton to be looked after during all seasons of the year. The land was wearing out, and state law forbade the sale of slaves out of state. Thus, slave owners could not benefit from breeding slaves as in a state like Virginia.
By 1860, slavery was extinct in Wilmington and disappearing in lower New Castle County. Even in Sussex County, the ratio of free to slave was one to three, but the General Assembly hesitated to take the final step. The Friends of Abolition almost succeeded in 1847, but one vote kept them from success.
How slaves were treated depended upon the whim of their owner. Mary Parker Welch, in her reminiscences of slavery in Delaware, paints mostly a pleasant picture of slave life in Sussex County. She knew of slaves who had purchased their freedom and later owned small farms and cottages. But, even Mrs. Welch told of whippings, illegal sales to slave traders for sale outside of the state, and the separation of families.
Some masters treated their slaves kindly. At the death of his father, John M. Clayton, later a distinguished Senator, brought the family slaves at a sheriff's sale with the understanding that they would be freed as soon as the money he had borrowed for that purpose was repaid.
Such an episode can be counterbalanced with tales of cruelty. John Hawkins, for example, in the 1830s, unsuccessfully petitioned the courts to prevent the sale of his children into the deep South. Solomon Bayley was a Delaware slave sold illicitly to a Virginia owner. He managed to escape and return to Delaware, where he eventually succeeded in buying not only his own freedom, but that of his wife and children. Levin Tilmon was born a slave but later became free and was indentured as an apprentice. He describes vividly hardships of both slaves and free blacks in his narrative published in 1853. William Still's compilation of narratives of the Underground Railroad is full of stories of whippings, separation of families, and mistreatment.
Prior to the Civil War, free blacks suffered from many legal discriminatory practices. They needed passes signed by white men to leave the state, and if they were absent more than six months, they could not return. Free blacks from other states were not permitted to move to Delaware.
Laws became noticeably stricter after the 1831 Nat Turner Insurrection in Virginia. Several petitions requested that the General Assembly provide even stricter regulations on the mobility of free blacks. Although free blacks resented these laws and petitioned against them, their efforts were to no avail.
Free blacks in the decades before the Civil War began to acquire property and gained some degree of economic security. While this was true in all counties, it was especially so in Wilmington, where county tax records show that a number of blacks owned their own homes and occasionally other buildings. While most of the blacks in the state outside of Wilmington engaged in farming or domestic service, those in Wilmington earned their living in a variety of ways. The City Directory of 1845 lists 26 occupations in which blacks found employment (see Dalleo in this volume).
The black population in Wilmington believed that education was an important tool for improving their lives. The Quakers opened a school for blacks in 1798, and in 1816, the African School Society opened another. A survey in 1837 found that this school was the only one in operation at the time. However, a Quaker philanthropist left money in his will for the opening of two schools in Kent county. Three or four Sunday schools provided elementary instruction in reading and writing. Free blacks were frequently apprenticed to learn a trade. Usually the boys were instructed in farming, and the girls in household work. Occasionally, boys were apprenticed to carpenters, blacksmiths, and shoemakers.
Delaware blacks were also attracted to religious observances. In the early part of the 18th century, slaves and freedmen attended white churches but were relegated to sitting in the gallery (as at Barratt's Chapel). Many blacks were attracted by the lively services of the Methodists and attended meetings of that denomination more than any other.
Harry Hosier, known as "Black Harry," was a traveling companion of Francis Asbury. In 1781, he preached a sermon at Barratt's Chapel in Kent County on the barren fig tree: "The circumstance was new, and the white people looked on with attention." Hosier became well-known along the eastern seaboard, preaching for more than 30 years. Dr. Benjamin Rush, of Philadelphia, once declared that allowing for his illiteracy, Black Harry was the greatest orator in America.
The first black church in Delaware was Ezion Methodist Episcopal Church which was established in Wilmington in 1805 when the black members of the Asbury Methodist Church withdrew and erected their own building with the aid of white contributors. Resenting white control of their services, however, the bulk of the members of Ezion Methodist Episcopal Church withdrew in 1813, under the leadership of the Reverend Peter Spencer and William Anderson and formed the Union African Methodist Episcopal Church (UAME). Under the guidance of the Reverend Spencer, the church grew rapidly. By the time of the death of the "patriarch" in 1843, the congregation consisted of more than 1,200 members in several states.
In the decades before the Civil War, humanitarian feelings, the efforts of abolitionists, and the failure of some planters to run their plantations profitably resulted in a great increase in the number of free blacks. On the eve of the Civil War, in a white population of 90,589, black inhabitants were distributed as follows:
When the Civil War began, blacks were not accepted into the Union Army, but this policy changed in 1862. Eventually, 1,400 black men from Delaware served. Some enlisted, some were drafted, and others were hired as substitutes by men who did not wish to serve in the army.
During the War, President Lincoln wished to experiment with compensated emancipation in Delaware as a way to end slavery in the nation. He conferred with Representative George P. Fisher, in 1861, about this possibility. Fisher and Nathaniel B. Smithers of Dover, a Republican politician who later became a Congressman, drew up a plan to compensate owners and to abolish slavery completely in the State by 1872. However, a poll of the members of the Assembly revealed the measure would fail by one vote.
While Lincoln's 1863 Emancipation plan freed the slaves in the rebellious states, those in border states like Delaware were not affected until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in December 1865. Delaware slaves were finally free.
Civil War to the Depression: 1865-1930
Following emancipation, the Delaware Legislature began to place even more limitations on African American citizenship. Politicians lost no time in forging an anti-black agenda, especially the Democrats who did not favor emancipation. As Governor Saulsbury said in his inaugural address earlier in the year, the true position of the Negro was as a subordinate race excluded from all political and social privileges. The Democratic legislature, in 1866, resolved that blacks were not the political or social equal of whites. These statements were probably typical of how many white Delawareans felt on the racial issue and were similar to those expressed in the Southern states. The legislature soon found ways to prevent blacks from exercising full citizenship. These measures were so successful that Ku Klux Klan activities in Delaware, during this time were limited.
Freedmen anticipated they would have full rights but soon found the period after the War was a time for frustration and disappointment. "White or black" was the political issue of the Reconstruction period, the Delaware Gazette in Wilmington declared. The Democrats wasted no time using the race card whenever the opportunity arose.
The Republicans fought back with no success. In 1867, a Congressional Committee investigated whether the state had a "Republic." Strong testimonies were presented indicating Sussex and Kent County's opposition to ". . . Negro suffrage, Negro education and Negro political and social equality." In spite of such testimony, the Committee did not recommend that the federal government intervene as it did in some areas of the South.
Fearful that the 1875 Civil Rights Act passed by Congress might establish social equality, Delaware legislators passed a "Jim Crow" law (1875), which virtually made black Delawareans second-class citizens. The law was not appealed until 1963.
Delaware blacks achieved little during the first 10 years of their freedom because of obstacles raised by prejudice and the legislature. The only sign of any progress was in the area of education. Educational opportunities for blacks widened in Delaware during the Reconstruction period, in part aided by the activities of the Freedmen's Bureau. In addition, the work of the Delaware Association for the Moral Improvement and Education of the Coloured People was invaluable.
Nothing was done about higher education until 1891, when the provisions of the federal second Morrill Act resulted in the founding of Delaware State College (now Delaware State University). For many years, it provided opportunities for both secondary and college education. Facilities and support from the state were, at first, inadequate. The dominant personality during the first 25 years of existence was Dr. William C. Jason, its second president, who assumed the task of developing "the college as an instrument for the upgrading of the Negro in Delaware."
Economically, blacks remained at a disadvantage, as studies of Dr. Jerome Holland, former president of Delaware State College, and Dr. Harold Livesay revealed. Dr. Livesay found blacks remained at the bottom of the economic ladder between Reconstruction and World War II, being virtually excluded from white collar jobs. In 1940, 70 percent of all blacks employed were either laborers or domestic servants, compared with 12 percent of the white working force. Blacks held about 75 percent of all menial jobs in the state in 1940. The development of a small middle class in Wilmington, including an increasing number of black teachers was the only encouraging sign. But, such factors as discriminatory hiring practices, segregated labor unions, and an inadequate school system made progress difficult.
Social and political discrimination against blacks seriously restricted any advancement. A famous U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1880 ruled that William Neal could not stand convicted of rape and murder because blacks were excluded from jury duty. As a result, Moses America, a black man, was summoned to jury duty in 1881, but blacks were not freely called thereafter. Blacks were also excluded from the practice of law. Black firemen and policemen were still not hired. In 1893, George Tilghman, a grocer, became a bailiff in the City Council.
A political breakthrough came in 1901, when Thomas E. Postles, a Wilmington laborer and small businessman, became a member of City Council. To Wilmington blacks he was a hero, and a political club was named after him. He was re-elected in 1905. At a political rally at Bavarian Park on Dupont Street in 1906, William T. Trusty, President of the Postles Club, said, "This organization intends to battle for the benefit of the Negro until the last Negro in Delaware dies, if need be." Postles' successor was John O. Hopkins, a druggist, who served on the Council for 32 years.
Downstate a breakthrough came in 1901, the same year that Postles began to serve on the City Council, when John Barclay was appointed by Governor Hunn as a janitor in the State House. Although it was a menial job, it was the first time a black served in any capacity in a state administration.
The climax of this frustrating period of disappointment came in 1903, when under the excitement of a sermon preached by the pastor of Olivet Presbyterian Church, members of the community broke into the workhouse. They dragged out George White for lynching. White was a black man accused of rape and murder. The press was unanimous in denouncing the affair, and the racist minister was later driven out of town.
A chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was organized in Wilmington in 1915. Its first success was in persuading the City Council to pass an ordinance banning moving pictures "likely to stir up bad feelings between the races." This ordinance prevented the showing of "The Birth of a Nation," which presented blacks in an unfavorable light during Reconstruction. Since then, the organization has worked for fair employment, housing, integration of schools, and remains the major agency to fight the battle for civil rights.
Delaware blacks served their country in World War I, though they faced discrimination within the armed services. An estimated 1,400 blacks from the state served, including five officers. The Norman D. Scott post of the American Legion was named for a black casualty who belonged to the James Reese European band.
Although he fought to make the world safe for democracy, the returning veteran did not find a different world than he had left. During the next 20 years, he faced economic, social, and political discrimination. When the Works Progress Administration (WPA) studied blacks in the 1930s, writers found that a "color line" existed, especially in the southern part of Delaware. White Delawareans below Wilmington claimed they had no objection to associating with blacks as long as they "stayed in their place," but, in reality, there was little association between the races except at the bottom levels of both groups or by wealthy whites who employed servants.
In northern Delaware, blacks were granted theoretical equality, though there was little intimate or general association with whites. Blacks could sit anywhere in public conveyances and patronize public libraries and parks, but they were excluded from theaters, restaurants, and hotels. They had their own schools and usually attended services in their own churches. Overall, black Wilmingtonians had more freedom than fellow blacks in southern Delaware.
When Mrs. Dunbar-Nelson wrote "Delaware: A Jewel of Inconsistencies," in 1924, she saw some encouraging signs such as the appearance of black physicians, dentists, pharmacists, and members of the Wilmington Board of Education, Board of Health, and City Council. Blacks also served on the Republican State Committee. She was disappointed that practically all state and county offices were closed to blacks, except in a menial capacity.
Modern Times: 1930 to the Present
During the Depression, blacks were in a desperate plight. The old adage--the last to be hired, and the first to be fired--applied. WPA investigators estimated that 60 percent of employable blacks lacked visible means of support, another 20 percent were employed on work relief, and the remaining 20 percent worked as farm laborers and domestics. Small businessmen suffered greatly from the Depression. The only bright feature was the gains made by the professional classes.
During this time, blacks rarely advanced politically. An exception was William W. Coage, son of a businessman who operated a stage line from New Castle to Wilmington. A graduate of Wilberforce University in 1899, he received an appointment as a clerk in the Census Bureau in Washington, D.C., in 1900, with the aid of Senator Henry A. DuPont. Coage was the first Delaware black ever to receive such a federal post. From 1902 to 1924, he followed a business career, but in 1924, he was appointed a member of the U.S. Commission to investigate conditions in the Virgin Islands. A year later, he became Second Deputy Recorder of Deeds in Washington, D.C. In 1930, he was appointed Recorder.
In 1930, 60 out of 100 blacks were gainfully employed. Of these, 21 of each 100 were in agriculture, 20 in manufacturing and mercantile industries, 12 in transportation, six in fishing, one in mining, one clerical and 33 in personal and domestic service. Blacks owned or were tenants of 827 farms. The two largest classes in which blacks worked were in domestic service or road construction. Few labor unions admitted blacks, and their wages as laborers or domestic servants were low.
Because of the Depression, it is not surprising that black residents began to support Democratic candidates rather than those of the "party of Lincoln." Numerous black children bore the given name of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
In World War II, more than 4,000 blacks served in the armed forces and a few received commissions as officers: Five in the Army, one in the Air Corps, and three as warrant officers. Blacks were not yet admitted to the Delaware National Guard. Four young women served in the Women's Army Corps. Later, black inhabitants served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
The returning veterans from World War II found no warmer welcome than after World War I. Although 15,000 blacks could vote, they did not organize and made little impact on legislation or in receiving jobs. When Pauline Young wrote her pioneer history of blacks in Delaware in 1947, she found few black officeholders except in menial jobsÛnone in the legislature or in white collar jobs in county or state offices, and practically none on state boards. Two blacks served on Wilmington City Council, but few were employed in city offices. The same kind of social discrimination that prevailed in the 1920s and 1930s continued to be practiced, but eventful changes were anticipated.
Strong national leadership under Dr. Martin Luther King and others, along with an energized local leadership, provided the impetus for black socialization in Delaware. In 1950, Who's Who in Colored America included 10 Delawareans: from Wilmington, Dr. Conwell Banton, well-known physician in the fight against tuberculosis; Reverend A. R. James, clergyman; Dr. T. F. Jamison, dentist; G. A. Johnson, school principal; Pauline A. Young, librarian and author; and from Delaware State College, Miss T. E. Bradford, T. R. Moses, C. W. Pinckney, and H. D. Weaver, college professors, and from Laurel, J. R. Webb, school principal. This list was far from inclusive. It might have mentioned Dr. Jerome Holland, former head of Delaware State College in the 1940s, who went on to become the head of Hampton Institute (VA), a representative to the United Nations and Ambassador to Sweden, or Mrs. Dorothy Banton, wife of the distinguished physician Conwell Banton, who did so much for teenagers at the Kruse School, or members of the Henry family in Dover, distinguished in medicine, dentistry and pharmacy. Dr. William Henry served on the Dover School Board and as a trustee of Delaware State College. It might have included the distinguished lawyer, Louis Redding, who began his battle on behalf of desegregation in the schools in 1950, or his brother, J. Saunders Redding, who wrote the widely known book, On Being Black in America, in which he described in a moving way his childhood in Wilmington, or Edward Loper, an outstanding artist and interpreter of the Delaware scene.
Changes influenced by black leaders began to occur about the time of World War II. The first basketball game between a white and black school took place in 1942, when Wilmington Friends School played Howard High School. The first black member of the legislature, William J. Winchester, a Republican, was elected in 1945. Paul Livingstone became the second member in 1952. Salesianum High School opened its doors to five black students in 1950. In the next few years, the integration of the YMCA (1951), black members of the National Guard (1951), and the opening of the Hotel DuPont to black citizens (1953) occurred.
In education, the University of Delaware opened its doors to black students in 1948. Louis Redding filed a suit on behalf of black children in Claymont and Hockessin in 1950 for admission to the white public schools on the grounds that facilities for black children were inferior. As a result, Chancellor Collins J. Seitz ordered desegregation. The case was then appealed to the United States Supreme Court. Delaware was one of five defendants in Brown v. Board of Education. In 1954, the Supreme Court ordered desegregation. Wilmington schools began to comply in that year as did Dover, but in other parts of state, progress was slow. In Milford, efforts by the National Association for the Advancement of White People headed by Bryant W. Bowles, an ardent desegregation opponent, along with others, hindered the process of desegregation. Louis Redding filed suit in 1957 for the admission of black children in seven downstate schools, and Chief Justice Leahy of Delaware ordered desegregation to begin by fall. Through appeal, the decision was not put into effect until 1959. Since then, all schools have become integrated, but in 1975, a court order provided that New Castle County schools should be integrated on a county-wide basis, as the Wilmington schools were mostly attended by black students and county schools by white students.
Peaceful progress in solving problems relating to civil rights was rudely checked in 1968 by riots and disturbances in Wilmington. The nation was shocked in April 1968 by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. As a result, disturbances broke out in many cities, including Wilmington. Rioting, looting, and sniping occurred in an area bound by Fourth Street, Washington Street, Ninth Street, and Interstate 95. Mayor John Babiarz placed the city under a 6:00 p.m. curfew and banned the sale of liquor and firearms. Governor Charles Terry called in the National Guard to keep order. Scores of people were injured, and many were arrested for violating the curfew, looting, and sniping. This outbreak lasted about 10 days before calming down. Governor Terry was criticized for keeping the National Guard on duty in the city for months, and this decision contributed to his defeat in the November election.
This affair merely pointed out that blacks in Wilmington were so frustrated by the slow pace of progress that they struck out in blind rage at the loss of Dr. King--the national leader who had offered hope. Four New Castle County representatives in the General Assembly reflected this attitude in a statement issued at the time, saying that "Not enough has been done to alleviate causes of poverty, despair, discrimination or unrest." They recommended the Assembly prohibit discrimination in the sale and rental of homes, establish a State Department of Housing, and improve recreational facilities. Within a few years, federal funds were provided for improved housing, though many problems remained unsolved.
Since World War II, Wilmington has increasingly become a black city. In 1970, 40 percent of the population was black, a significant increase (40 percent) in the number of blacks residing in the city since 1960, while the white population in that decade decreased by 36 percent. Wilmington had a population of 80,000, consisting of 45,000 whites, 35,000 blacks, and 1,300 Hispanics. In 1940, the city reached an all- time high total population of 112,000, which has declined since that time. These changes were accompanied by the movement of many white inhabitants to the suburbs, making New Castle County one of the most rapidly growing counties in the nation; by the majority of black students in public schools; by an increasing number of employees of the city, county, and industry being black, and by the struggle of the downtown area to improve its facilities in view of the competition with suburban shopping centers and malls.
From the 1970s to the present, blacks in Delaware have made moderate progress. While much can be attributed to individual successes, it nonetheless provides the stimulus for group advancement. The history of the group has been like a seesaw, a host of highs and lows. However, as economic gains increase and opportunities are presented, there are hints of optimism for Delaware's black populace. The inauguration of Wilmington's first black mayor, James Sills, in January 1993 served as one of the biggest signs of hope.
The black contribution to the state has been phenomenal and most
recognize that the ebony inhabitants have come a long way since
"Black Anthony" first arrived on the shores of the Delaware
River in 1639.
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Last Updated: June 27, 1997
Last Updated: June 27, 1997