For the second time, a historical marker marking a gruesome Delaware lynching of a black man in 1903 was unveiled on Sunday in Wilmington’s Greenbank Park.
The original George White lynching marker, which 17-year-old Sanford School senior Savannah Shepherd led the effort to erect, was installed in June. Just weeks later, the blue and gold marker, which had a heavy concrete footing, was stolen and has never been found.
At Sunday’s tented ceremony under a pouring rain, Shepherd told a crowd including Governor John Carney, Lt. Governor Bethany-Hall Long and New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer that her passion for memorializing this moment in history was not deterred by the crime.
“I am actually very excited that we are all here today. And I know that is a weird thing to say given the circumstances that brought us here. But in reality, the hate that brewed in the people that stole the marker is not what brought us here. What brought us here is the love in all of our hearts and our desire to stand up for what is right,” she said.
Calling herself a 17-year-old girl who has been able to ‘bring together a community, start up a conversation that for so long was never meant to be heard,’ Shepherd said the weight of Sunday’s ceremony reaches beyond Delaware’s borders. George White is the only documented African-American victim of a lynching in Delaware.
“Lynchings were a means to instill fear in our community, and I am not going to allow this theft to do the same thing,” she said.
New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer said the stolen marker serves as a reminder that racism is not a problem of the past. “The heinous act that brings us together today will only strengthen our resolve to ensure everyone knows about this tragic fact of American and Delaware history,” he said.
To help ensure that the marker won’t be removed again, New Castle County installed new, unspecified security measures in Greenbank Park. The marker is located near the only remaining workhouse tower, adding to its historical significance.
Shepherd worked with a number of legislators and state agencies to produce and install the marker, including Delaware Public Archives, the Equal Justice initiative, State Sen. Darius Brown, Sen. Coons, Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, and Governor Carney.
Several private donors stepped up to provide funding for the replacement marker, and Delaware State University has vowed to replace the marker if it is ever stolen again.
Shepherd was inspired to take action in her hometown after a visit with her family to Alabama in the spring of 2018, where she visited the National Memorial for Peace and Justice Legacy Museum.
There she attended a dedication ceremony that recognized and memorialized the more than 4,000 people of color who were burned, brutalized, and lynched during the post-slavery years, primarily from 1877–1950.
Her research discovered that on June 23, 1903, George White had been accused of attacking the white daughter of the head of Ferris School in Wilmington. He was dragged from the workhouse near Prices Corner where he was being held. Without benefit of a trial, Mr. White was burned alive in front of a crowd estimated to be in the thousands. His bones were actually collected and sold as souvenirs.
Shepherd said she knows her project has struck a chord. “Some people believe that what I am doing is pointless and just bringing up the past. But if racial tension was just a thing of the past we would not be standing here, for the second time. We have a long way to go. And as the journey continues, there will be many bumps, but the end destination is justice for all.”