A long-simmering debate on where to erect the Delaware African-American Heritage Center may have come to an end this week when Wilmington Mayor James Baker selected the Delaware Historical Society to lead its operation.
In a News Journal report, Baker said that soon residents can visit a new venue dedicated to the area’s history and culture of African-Americans.
“We have had enough debate, enough arguing and enough of a delay on this important project,” said Baker, who, along with state Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden, D-Wilmington, started pushing for a heritage center in 1996, when the two were on City Council. “It is past time that we move forward and establish a heritage center so that people of all ethnic backgrounds can learn more about Wilmington’s history and about the African-Americans who were and are part of the fabric of our city.”
Now after some 15 years of struggle, the Delaware Historical Society will receive $1 million to help establish the heritage center. The money is from a 2004 city bond allotted specifically for the center. After raising an additional $2.5 million, the center should be fully operational in three years, Baker said.
However, critics of the mayor’s decision claim that the Historical Society is a poor choice because it has underrepresented African-American historical contributions in the past and has only one black worker out of 16 employees.
Harmon Carey, who heads the Afro-American Historical Society, recalled one instance where the Delaware Historical Society produced an exhibit that was a whitewashed historical version of the city’s Market Street.
“It was a street of hope and dreams for white people,” he said. “For us, it was a bastion of segregation. They didn’t tell the story about the segregation. They just told the positive story.”
Carey added that he would have rather seen his organization involved in the heritage center in order to adequately honor the area’s rich black history. Jazz artists like Clifford Brown and renowned attorney Louis Redding once lived in the area.
Though Baker says his decision is final, it’s hard to say if we’ve heard the last of this issue.