By: Susan Canfora
On the heels of closing state offices on Friday, June 19, in observance of Juneteenth, Gov. John Carney urged Delaware residents to “recommit to treating one another with more respect.”
Next week, he said on Friday, he will sign an executive order to ban the use of choke-holds at the Delaware State Police and Capitol Police and require additional de-escalation training.
The state will stop posting mugshots of children, mandate participation in the national use-of-force database and increase crisis intervention training and mental health services for police officers.
State officials are working with the Delaware Heritage Commission to create an educational program concerning race and slavery in Delaware and throughout the country because, “If we don’t educate ourselves and acknowledge our ugly history around race, we can’t begin to understand the anger and frustration that I’ve heard from so many Delawareans in the last several weeks,” Carney said.
Also on Friday, Carney participated in a live, online discussion about the importance of Juneteenth. With him were with Dr. Reba Hollingsworth, vice chairwoman of the Delaware Heritage Commission; Sylvester Woolford, local historian; Dr. Donna Patterson, chairwoman of the Department of History, Political Science and Philosophy at Delaware State University; and Dr. David Young, executive director of the Delaware Historical Society.
Hollingsworth, who grew up in Milford in the 1920s, said her parents instilled pride in their seven children, all who made money by starting their own businesses “so we didn’t have to get jobs from white people, although we got jobs, but we found the salaries were less than, even though the work was more than,” she said.
“These are first steps that we can take administratively to improve the relationship between law enforcement and communities of color. Talk is cheap. We are committed to moving forward productively and in good faith to make real change in Delaware. That starts with recognizing our shared history, and learning the lessons of the past,” Carney stated in a news release.
When she started teaching in Delaware, African American teachers were paid $2,800 annually, $400 less than white teachers, which, many years later, affected her Social Security income when she retired.
“I don’t let the past bother me because I can’t change it but I do think the past should serve to make a better future. I look at my life in that way and I try to make my parents proud of what I’ve done,” she said as Carney admired her resilience and called her “a prize for all of us.”
Patterson, a native of Texas, said Juneteenth was part of her life as she was growing up.
“Many of you, when you think of the end of slavery, you think of the Emancipation Proclamation, or the end of the Civil War in 1865,” she said.
The Emancipation Proclamation was President Abraham Lincoln’s executive order, changing the legal status from slave to free for more than 3.5 million enslaved African Americans. It was issued on Sept. 22, 1862, during the Civil War.
Juneteenth, first observed on June 19, 1865, was the day the end of slavery was announced in Galveston, Texas. Patterson said slave owners there didn’t want to end slavery, and it was more difficult to get information about the end of slavery to Galveston, because it’s an island city on the Gulf Coast of Texas and news reached its residents more slowly. That meant Juneteenth wasn’t celebrated there until 1867, she said.
There was a lull in the observance in the 1950s and ’60s but a resurgence in the ’70s. In the 1980s Texas made Juneteenth an official state holiday, with fireworks, foods and parades.
Woolford said the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t free all slaves and that slavery didn’t end in Delaware until the 13th amendment was ratified.
The 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery in the United States, but there were three states that rejected it and did not ratify it until the 20th Century. Delaware ratified it on Feb. 12, 1901, Kentucky on March 18, 1976 and Mississippi on March 16, 1995.
“Juneteenth has taken on its own definition, or its own life, and it is being celebrated as the end of slavery. I think everyone has bought into that, everyone has bought into this is the day and we are going to celebrate the end of slavery. We as a nation should have an end to this terrible period in history,” he said.
Young said there were 1,900 enslaved Africans in Delaware in 1860, according to the last census taken before the Civil War.
Implications of Delaware delaying ratification of the 13 Amendment — as well as the 14th Amendment affirming the new rights of freed men and women and the 15th Amendment, affirming their right to vote — meant a segregated school system and that African Americans did not immediately have the right to vote, he said.
Also, Young said, Delaware officials at that time were not required to report incidents of racial terror against Black Delawareans or lynchings.
“African Americans haven’t had the advantages many others have had. It’s important for us going forward to address issues that haven’t gone away. The statues might go away but the more values change, the more we understand history and we can see an evolving sense of history and rewrite it together,” he said.
Carney said some young people don’t know the meaning of Juneteenth, but Patterson said when she teaches African-American history she always incorporates it into the lesson.
“I teach it to them but I think now many of them will see it in a different way,” Patterson said.
Young said he hopes legislators Carney is in touch with realize how important it is to continue discussions about race relations and the governor agreed.
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By: Susan Canfora