George White was killed by an angry mob after being tortured and burned in June 1903. The incident happened a few miles west of Wilmington while White, who was black, was awaiting trial after being accused of murdering a white girl a few days earlier. A sign marking the spot of that lynching — the only one confirmed in Delaware history — was erected in Wilmington’s Greenbank Park in June.
A little more than a month later, the marker was stolen.
“I was just very, very shocked and surprised,” said Savannah Shepherd. The 16-year-old from Middletown came up with the idea for the historical marker after visiting the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Alabama in 2018, and worked with state Sen. Darius Brown to make it a reality.
Shepherd, a rising senior at Sanford School in Hockessin, hopes whoever stole the marker comes forward.
“I’m just hoping that we can have a conversation with whoever did it just so we can have a better understanding of why I (proposed the marker),” she said. “It wasn’t to offend anyone. It’s just a very important part of our history that we do need to remember because it is not just in the past.”
New Castle County Police are offering a $2,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the theft. Police were first alerted to the crime after someone saw the sign was missing and noticed a large hole in the ground last Thursday.
Brown stopped short of saying the theft was racially motivated — police do not know the motive — but he thinks the sign was targeted.
“It was absolutely intentional,” Brown said. “Whether they or he or she were offended by what it represented, the telling of the history that is not a good history of the state, whatever the context was, it was something that was intentionally done, and it was executed not by someone that was a novice.”
There are about 650 historical markers scattered throughout the state, but there have been few cases of vandalizations, according to state archivist Stephen Marz.
“This is a rare occasion,” said Marz, who is also the director of the Delaware Public Archives which runs the marker program. “I’ve been the director here for almost ten years and there’s only been one other instance that I’m aware of during that tenure of a marker being defaced and stolen.”
In 2015, a marker at Silver Lake near Rehoboth Beach was taken off its pole and thrown into the lake. That marker explained the importance of the waterway to the nearby community.
Marz believes the theft of the George White marker is an attempt to suppress that story from being told.
“When you try to represent historical fact and then someone tries to stop that history from being presented to the public, it shows a greater determination that that history is in fact going to be advised to the public,” Marz said.
Shepherd and Brown are both calling for a replacement marker to be installed with an even grander ceremony than the first one in June.
“We just want to support this young lady and her work, which is to be commended, and give her all the support that she needs so she’ll continue in this work and not be thwarted by this unfortunate circumstance,” Brown said.
Shepherd hasn’t been deterred in her passion in fighting for racial justice.
“It’s still very much a thing that’s in our present,” she said.
The Delaware Public Archives is accepting donations to fund the $2,200 needed for a new marker. Donations can be made out to the State of Delaware and mailed or dropped off in person at Delaware Public Archives, 121 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. North, Dover, Delaware 19901.