Lewes menhaden reel rich in local history

April 19, 2021

As we approach another summer season with increased visitors, we will also see an increase in those who decide to make Delaware beaches their new home haven. Delaware beckons those seeking sea, sun and sand to come, stay, and if you’re really smitten, make a home here. We should also establish that those seeking to transplant be prepared to learn about and blend into the local culture, not come with plans to transform it to look like where they’ve moved from. This will take more than the errant weekend or two-week vacation. 

Delaware natives certainly understand the draw and are mixed when it comes to transplants, more welcoming of those who seek to meld into the local culture. The problem arises when newcomers want to change the culture, to cleanse it for their aesthetic purposes and don’t respect the history of the area. Case in point, the menhaden net reel. The reel was referred to as an eyesore with complaints received to move it from its current resting place for this reason. The question that should be asked of those logging complaints is if they have taken any time to learn what the reel is or how it came to be. Here’s where the history lesson begins. 

The reel has stood as a memorial to yesteryear and the thriving seafood industry that put Lewes Beach and the Atlantic coast on the map, and provided financial security for the area for a number of years. A more important accomplishment, and even more so because it took place before the civil rights movement increased in momentum, was how blacks and whites saw past color and worked together for the success of all. Joseph Jett is quoted as saying “There was one black captain, Adrian Davis, who often brought his boat in loaded with fish. He was a top line fisherman.” (Frye, 1978, para. 2). 

Relegating the reel to the status of an eyesore is throwing away some very important history about how the beach area became the thriving, sought-after destination it is and causes to be forgotten the contributions, particularly those of African-Americans, a group that finds its majority now only able to work, shop in some stores, and visit the beach areas (more in the off-season as there are less numbers to contend with) because of the high price to live there when once Blacks thrived in places such as Belltown and the Camille section. Their inability to access housing in the area is further cemented in the acts of local legislators who refuse to consider affordable housing so those who are truly responsible for moving the commerce wheels forward, would not have to drive close to an hour or more for work. Digression stops here as that would be another article.  

We don’t take issue with those who want to make the area their own; we ask that you take the time to learn about the area you’re moving into and the rich history generated here. Maybe a crash course history lesson of the region should be included with every new home purchase for newcomers. Get involved with initiatives that help to increase understanding, inclusion, and cultural awareness. Engaging in these activities would assist you with transitioning from a transplant to a welcomed neighbor. 

Malinda S. Hudson, PhD
Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice
  • Cape Gazette commentaries are written by readers whose occupations, education, community positions or demonstrated focus in particular areas offer an opportunity to expand our readership's understanding or awareness of issues of interest.

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