Historical marker commemorates Delaware lynching

June 28, 2019

More than 100 community members joined state Sen. Darius Brown, D-Dover, along with members of the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus June 23 to memorialize the only documented lynching in the First State.

Joined by U.S. Sen. Chris Coons and U.S. Congresswomen Lisa Blunt Rochester, Brown and Sanford School rising senior Savannah Shepherd unveiled an official state historical marker commemorating the 1903 murder of laborer George White at the hands of an angry white mob.

“The incredible attendance at today’s event shows how much this marker was needed,” said Brown, who chairs the caucus. “Our shared history as Americans includes some very dark chapters, and we must be brave enough to confront those injustices if we are ever going to move forward together. Recognizing the murder of Mr. White as a horrific act of racism and suppression is an important step in that process, and I’m grateful we live in a state where that can be acknowledged.”

Installed by the Delaware Public Archives at New Castle County’s Greenbank Park, the new historical marker describes how White was arrested for the murder of a white girl despite denying any involvement in the attack.

White vigilantes had twice tried and failed to take White when a local minister delivered a sermon that sparked a violent confrontation between White’s jailers and an angry mob. White eventually was dragged off and burned alive; pieces of his charred body were taken by the mob as souvenirs.

No one was ever convicted of any crimes related to his murder. A documentary has been made about White’s lynching, and the story has been kept alive by historians and journalists, but the incident has largely been forgotten by the general public.

Shepherd first learned about White’s murder after visiting the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala., the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the roughly 4,300 documented racial terror lynchings of African Americans between the end of the Civil War and the end of World War II.

The memorial is operated by the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit founded by criminal justice reform pioneer and Milton native Bryan Stevenson, who is the subject of the new HBO documentary “True Justice.”

Shepherd founded the Delaware Social Justice Remembrance Coalition and worked to get a historical marker placed in the area where White was killed. She approached Brown, who agreed to cover the cost of the marker and advance her efforts. “I am so proud that Delaware is a state that is not afraid to confront its past,” Shepherd said. “We have a lot of work to do, but this project will help everyone remember the past so that we can push forward to a brighter future.”

Stephen M. Marz, state archivist and director of the Delaware Public Archives, said, ”We are fortunate to work with the citizens, groups and members of the General Assembly who request an historical marker to denote an event, location or person significant to the First State’s history. Today's installation of the George White marker will ensure that this history will be remembered."

“Recognizing George White and the horrendous actions that took his life is an important step in the journey of our country in healing the racial injustice for the last two centuries,” said Coons. “Thank you to Savannah Shepherd, Delaware Legislative Black Caucus, New Castle County and the Delaware State Archives for hosting the event and bringing us closer together as Delawareans.”

"The only way that we can learn from our past is by confronting it,” said Blunt Rochester. “The racist murder of George White is unquestionably one of our darkest moments as a state. I’m grateful to Savannah Shepherd and the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus for their work to document this heinous act. It is my hope that this historical marker will serve as a solemn reminder of this vile incident for generations of Delawareans to come, and that our community will use this as a catalyst to fight racism and bigotry wherever they see it.”