Following an official naming in 2022, the City of Lewes continues to look for ways to revitalize Johnnie Walker Beach.
The Johnnie Walker Beach Subcommittee was formed to explore ways to inform the public not only about Johnnie Walker and his restaurant, but also about how the area was a gathering place for African Americans during and after segregation.
The group's May 17 meeting focused on what they could place on the beach. Informational kiosks and panels have been in the works for some time, and there's growing support for adding a pavilion like the one that was once there.
Chair Trina Brown-Hicks noted the committee needs to first work with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and Lewes Beach Commissioner Kay Carnahan to verify what and where items can be placed.
“It’ll be the history of the beach, not just solely Johnnie Walker,” said the Rev. Deborah McCaffity, adding that important events in the Black community occurred there, including baptisms.
In addition to using the Facebook page Memories of Lewes as a resource, the group is working with the Lewes Historical Society and other members of the African American community.
Voices Heard: African American Oral History in Lewes is a historical society project featuring oral testimony from prominent African Americans who once lived or now live in Lewes. Over the last couple of years, much of the understanding of African American history in Lewes has come from the oral histories and Memories of Lewes. The most recent recording captured by Marcos Salaverria and Brown-Hicks was of Mattie Walker-Green, the niece of Johnnie Walker.
Unfortunately, just days after being recorded, Walker-Green died. Brown-Hicks said her interview was very emotional. She told her story just in time.
“All of the information that we have been trying to gather for the last two years on Mr. Johnnie Walker would have been lost,” said an emotional Brown-Hicks. “I was honored to be in her presence.”
Walker-Green told Salaverria and Brown-Hicks that she had been writing a book.
“This is the final chapter of my book,” Walker-Green told the two.
Brown-Hicks, with permission from the family, announced during the May 18 Lewes African American Heritage Commission that Walker-Green had no insurance and did not have enough to pay for funeral costs. She added that anyone wishing to donate to her funeral expenses may do so by sending donations directly to the Bennie Smith Funeral Home in Dover, where her services were held May 27.
Salaverria said he will work to isolate her interview and post it on the Lewes African American Heritage Commission website.