Racism in Delaware State Government

 (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

(Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

State employees have accused some Delaware agencies of discrimination – sending a message to Governor Markell. John Watson offers a reflection.

Here is John Watson’s commentary:

Would you like to work for the state government? Well, if you were offered a job with the Delaware Department of Transportation, we are told you would see an unfair situation, where workers are regularly divided into segregated work crews – black and white.

The News Journal reports that interviews they had with employees of the DOT, have found rampant segregation, with qualified blacks being overlooked and getting the low level jobs, while whites ride machinery and get higher paying jobs. Some 5,000 African Americans are employed among the over 17,000 state employees.

State workers throughout Delaware are being interviewed by black pastors, who are gathering evidence and testimony that, they say, shows racism goes unchecked in virtually every state agency.

The interviews are being given to the Interdenominational Ministers Action Council and the NAACP, who plan to deliver them to Governor Jack Markell.

Rev. Silvester Beaman, pastor of Bethel Methodist Episcopal Church, and president of IMAC, is quoted as saying, “I believe the system is sick and we will have to help (Markell) see the sickness”. Going on to say, “…we would like to see an eradication of this culture of racism that we see exemplified in state government”.

IMAC Ministers and NAACP Officials say they have heard stories about black employees being routinely passed over for promotions; enduring out right racist acts; and being punished more severely than white employees for infractions. Some say segregated work crews are routine.

Governor Markell told the pastors during a meeting that the state has a zero-tolerance policy against discriminatory practices, and he takes diversity very seriously. He said, “Most of my years that I have been governor we have brought in folks to talk to our cabinet about the best approach that we all can take in terms of fostering a culture and environment that values diversity.”

After his meeting with the ministers, it’s reported that the governor sent an e-mail to all state employees, making it clear that the pastors and the NAACP, “…have convinced me that there are valid concerns in this area. And Individuals should feel comfortable consulting with this group if they desire, and should not fear reprisal for doing so.”

Meanwhile, Minister Christopher Curry, of Zion Fair Baptist Church in Wilmington reportedly said many African American employees have no confidence in the state for the grievance process.

But when some 50 state workers gave testimony at a meeting, Rev. Curry said they came prepared, “…all the people who testified have a lot of documentation. This is not only about verbal (testimony).”

That’s the way to go. It reminds me of our fight for education desegregation, when I was in high school in Farmville, VA. With the help of the NAACP and our mentor, Pastor L. Francis Griffin, of First Baptist Church, it worked. We were one of the five Supreme Court 1954 Cases, ruling that “separate but equal have no place in public education.” Yes we were afraid, but we were more determined than anything else.

We teenagers succeeded with the help of the NAACP and our mentor, so it seems to me the segregated black employees of the DOT in Delaware will also succeed – if they do the same and enlist the help of local NAACP and church leaders.

Just keep in mind that you can trust the governor who says the state has a zero tolerance policy against discriminatory practice. Something he takes seriously.

And there are reports of Delaware officials responding to a complaint quickly and firing the employee. But still there are some ministers that see the Department of Labor as not trust worthy – the worst offender among agencies in Delaware.

Keep in mind that it’s illegal for any employer to discriminate against a worker because of his or her race, color, age, religion and many other things. And any employee who has been mistreated can file an Internal Department Grievance, or submit a discrimination charge with the Department of Labor or with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Philadelphia, the agency that investigates federal work place discrimination cases.

Federal – that sounds like a strong group we can all depend on. Good Luck.


John Watson is a long time observer of the Delaware scene from his perch as a Wilmington talk show host. You can write him at JohnWatson1506@comcast.net.

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