Black History Month At UD: Exploring slavery, segregation and civil rights in DE history
Every February, Black History Month is celebrated across the countries by schools, companies, individuals, churches, museums and many other institutions. Intertwined in virtually every element of American history at large, black history is becoming increasingly recognized as a vital topic when discussing any history in general.
Delaware’s black history dates back to 1639, when “Black Anthony,” the first black slave in Delaware, was delivered to Fort Christina. Slave trade and commerce continued until the State Constitution was established in 1776, stating that, “No person hereafter imported into this state from Africa ought to be held in slavery under any pretense whatever.” Delaware, along with Vermont, became among the first states to outlaw the sale of slaves, and illegal sellers of slaves were severely punished by law. Existing slaves, however, were not freed until the 13th amendment to the Constitution, which Delaware did not ratify until 1901.
The Underground Railroad had a large presence in Delaware as well, especially in Wilmington. This strong sentiment of anti-slavery continued into the Civil War.
Although Delaware had a strong anti-slavery sentiment, segregation was a mainstay in Delawarean society. Louis Redding, whom the honors dorm is named after, was crucial in desegregating the university. This strong pro-segregation public opinion culminated in Delaware being one of the defendants in the Brown v. Board of Education supreme court case which outlawed segregation.
To the students and faculty at the university, black history is important.
“Black history month to me means community and representation” says Camron Chappel, a freshman studying statistics. “Finding community and finding others who experience similar things as you, and a time to celebrate what makes the black community.”
To the university, however, Black History Month has taken a back seat. As the Department of Africana Studies and different resident student organizations (RSOs) have scheduled events and speakers during the month of February, many of which are educational lectures featuring professors from nearby colleges, the university itself has done little to none to celebrate black history. Neither President Assanis, nor any other member of the faculty senate, has sent an email, letter or other type of message to the university community celebrating, recognizing or acknowledging Black History Month.
The Department of Africana Studies, the Center for Black Culture and many RSOs are putting on events this month in honor of black history. These events are not widely known or advertised to the student body.
Regarding having more awareness, Chappel believes that events should be better publicized.
“I think more fun stuff [would help] … have cool black activists come to campus,” says Chappel. Although it is true that the events planned by different staff or students at the university have not been widely advertised, it is not clear why.
Many students feel as if the university has not done enough for the month, or African Americans in general, including African American sophomore Abdul Musa.
“With any business or with any organization, it’s all about the mission statement,” says Musa, “It should be ingrained in the mission statement, in the core standard for the university.”
Education is yet another front where students feel let down, with many sharing the sentiment that the story of U.S. history does not include enough African American narratives to be genuinely American history.
“A large part of this country being what it is, is because of us,” says Musa, “Any piece of history in the United States has to be linked back to [African Americans].”
Although the university left the celebration of black history and the countless black Americans who have been a vital part of American history, organizations around campus have not let the students down by paying tribute to the history of African Americans.