Work continues to tell Lewes’ complete story
Lewes is a town rich in history, but not all of that history is being told. Town officials, residents and organizations are trying to change that. The most recent examples of these efforts came Sept. 9-10.
On Sept. 9, the annual Chautauqua event at the Zwaanendael Museum provided time for Trina Brown-Hicks to present the history of the Happy Day Club, an entertainment venue for the African American community in Lewes. Anyone driving down Fourth Street today would never know it was once a vibrant place that drew the likes of James Brown, Fats Domino and other prominent Black performers.
The next day, a recognition ceremony was held for Johnnie Walker Beach. Although city officials approved the name in fall 2021, no formal ceremony had been held to date. One of the hold-ups was an exhaustive search to find a photograph of Walker, who operated a restaurant on the land that is now the beach parking lot. Despite much reverence for Walker, very little evidence is left to show his impact on the community during the time of segregation.
Work continues in the effort to tell that rich history. City officials and private residents are researching to learn more about Walker, his restaurant and life at the beach where many important moments occurred, such as baptisms, family reunions and picnics. The city plans to eventually add a kiosk with information and photographs.
Much of what we know now about the life of Black residents is through oral history. The Lewes Historical Society is recording that history, too. Over the past year or so, the society has been interviewing residents to preserve an oral history of the African American community before it is lost.
Through the efforts of residents and the society, landmarks have been identified and included in an African American walking tour. With more work, previously untold and under-appreciated history will be revealed and take its rightful place as part of Lewes’ complete story.