Black History Month: Civil War impact in Delaware

DELAWARE – During Black History Month, we are taking a look back into the history of the first state and how African-Americans were treated, specifically during and after the Civil War.

Today 47 ABC sat down with Jose Marcos Salaverria,  the Director of Education at the Lewes Historical Society, who shared that even though the emancipation proclamation was signed in 1863, that freedom did not come to all slaves in the state.

Slaves, seen as taxable property,  specifically in Sussex County were still prevalent post-war. We’re told roughly 525 were still slaves and over 4,300 freed.

Some argue slaves were kept because word never got to Delaware of the Emancipation Proclamation, but Salverria doesn’t buy that explanation.

“That is explaining a difficult problem too simply,” said Salaverria. “There are newspapers for Sussex County, for Kent and for New Castle, there is absolutely waterways. There is frequent trading craft, what it really was was a way of life.”

But even if word of the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t reach Delaware, the state would again make a strong stand.

After the 13th amendment, which abolished slavery, was adopted in the U.S. Constitution in 1865 Delaware joined seven other southern states rejecting it.

They’d also reject the 14th and 15 amendments not adopting all three into state law until 1901 roughly 30 years later.

Later in the century, African-Americans faced even more oppression in the state with Jim Crow laws and voter suppression laws. This, all happening as few resources were directed to Black communities like Beltown which was near Lewes, but no longer exists.

Salaverria says facts like these have often been left in the dark when talking about Black history and he believes there is a reason for that.

“I think the history has been hidden for so long because it is difficult to talk about it. Look at just this last year what we have gone through as a country to face up to understanding in a time where people are separated by COVID, we are also separated by racial divides,” Salaverria said.

In Delaware, some buildings still stand from those Black communities, such as St. George’s A.M.E in Lewes and the United Methodist Wesley Church.

Categories: Black History Month, Delaware, Local News