Delaware’s traditional Return Day hit with partial boycott over Confederate flag

The police department kicks off the Returns Day parade walking down West market Street to the Circle, the heart of Georgetown. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

The police department kicks off the Returns Day parade walking down West market Street to the Circle, the heart of Georgetown. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

Hundreds of Delawareans joined the biennial Return Day celebration at the circle in the heart of Georgetown. Featuring food vendors, entertainment, a parade, and highlighted by an official reading of election returns. Former political opponents ceremonially buried the hatchet, pledging to put the campaign behind them and work for the good of the state.

The traditional holiday traces its history back to the 18th century when Georgetown residents would gather days after the election to hear who won.

Typically a unifying event at least on the surface, this year’s Return Day was a bit different.

State Democratic Party officials urged its members not to participate in the traditional carriage rides that parade former opponents through the town. The call for a boycott comes after a dispute over the flying of a Confederate flag at the nearby Marvel Museum which traditionally has provided carriages for the parade.

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“The flag must come down,” said state NAACP president Richard Smith who joined the crowd boycotting with a poster that said, “The confederate flag stands for hate and racism.”

“The flag in this state, in this city, and this town is unfair to Black folks,” said Smith.

The majority of attendees said that despite some protesting the flag, the celebration still had value in bringing people together from all political backgrounds.

“This tradition is really about coming together after an election and recognizing that, you know, we fought a good race, we ran a good race, and now it’s time to get to work,” said Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester, thanking voters for helping her win another term.

Some said the attendance was lower this year than usual, perhaps due to the cancellation of the parade and festivities two years ago during the pandemic.

“I’m really sad to see this because I’m hoping the tradition continues, but it’s kind of scary to see it this way, thinking that they might not carry it on because there wasn’t a good turnout,” said Hillary Graves, 38, owner of Georgetown’s Hairspray Salon.

Graves remembered people putting out chairs the night before to save a spot for the parade in years past, but not this time. “It is unbelievable how dead it is out here on these streets.”

Attending Return Day is a longtime tradition for many in southern Delaware. That includes 77-year-old Louis Stockley, a retired Cape Henlopen School District maintenance supervisor who’s been coming to the parade for decades.

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Louis Stockley, a retired maintenance supervisor from the Cape Henlopen School District, marched in this year’s Returns Day parade. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

“I’ve been coming to the Returns Day parade ever since I was 17 years old, one way or the other, ” Stockley said before motoring his pickup truck along the parade route. “I was in the high school band that marched in the Returns Day Parade, and either I drive the bus to bring the Cape Henlopen High School band over to the parade, or I’m in the parade myself, which I am today.”

The festivities ended with the traditional ox roast following the parade and hatchet-burying ceremony, with free sandwiches for the community.

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