Lewes honors city history, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Lewes officials have unveiled the first street sign naming West Fourth Street in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The honor was a long time coming, but local residents persisted. When the project was shelved, they came back, again calling for change.
In December, a diverse group of residents supported renaming the street entirely, but that idea stalled, and officials eventually settled on an honorific renaming of the street.
Still, the process of securing the honorific renaming brought to attention the many contributions of the African American community to the history and development of Lewes.
Cape Henlopen school board member and former Cape coach Bill Collick, who grew up on Burton Avenue in Lewes, reminded city officials African Americans have long contributed to the development of the city, from building Beebe Hospital to working in the menhaden fish factory and educating city children. Lewes elected an African American mayor in George H.P. Smith and later named a park after him. Even the city’s police department was run for more than a decade by Beau Gooch, and the school district named a building after black educator Fred Thomas.
“Let us not join in parallel with the mean-spirited vibe that engulfs our country today,” Collick told mayor and council in December. “Let us come together in the spirit that has brought Lewes to the significance it has today. We aren’t as far apart as we think we are, and it’s never the wrong time to do the right thing.”
While Lewes officials eventually settled on the honorific renaming of West Fourth Street, they also established a Lewes African American Heritage Commission to highlight contributions from the African American community. In the end, establishing the commission – and acting on its proposals – may lead to greater recognition of the role of the city’s African American community in the growth and development of Lewes than a few street signs ever would.
Last week’s ceremony to honor Dr. King should be a first step toward coming together to honor the rich contributions of Lewes’ African American community.