New Castle, Delaware
Community History and Archaeology Program 

Oral histories from Growing Up Black in New Castle County Delaware
compiled by Jeanne D. Nutter, Arcadia Press, Charleston 2001


I was born in New Castle, Delaware, on January 9, 1919. Well, my mother worked in Wayne, Pennsylvania, but I lived with an older aunt, who is my mother's sister. And my mother's sister also reared many of her brother's and sister because her mother died when they were young. So she reared my mother and some of the other brothers and sisters, and then she also reared me. And she was an excellent, excellent person. She taught me many good things and kept a good reign on me. And I am glad for the things she taught me and how she raised me.

And I went to school at Booker T. Washington in New Castle from the first to eight grade. I started there in 1923, and I started first grade in 1924. And I went from the first grade to the eighth grade. it was a two-room school and two teachers that taught all eighth grades. We had a little room, first through the fourth grade, and a big room was from the fifth to eighth grade. And each teacher taught all four grades.

The name of my first teacher, who was also the first teacher to teach at Booker T. Washington School, was Mrs. Bertha Battle - Mrs. Bertha Howard Battle. And she came from the Washington, D.C. area, and she taught the first through the fourth grade. Mr. Albion Unthank was the principal and he taught grades five through eight at Booker T. Washington School. And Mr. Unthank taught there until his sudden death. He was there for many years and so was Mrs. Battle.

My aunt's name was Isabella, I S A B E L L A, and her last name was Guy, G_U_Y. And she always taught us, first of all, to be honest. And she said if you ever have to borrow - she didn't believe in borrowing at all. She would do without things before she would borrow. But she said if you did ever borrow, always pay back. And if you couldn't get there to pay at the time you had agreed to pay, go to the person and let them know that I don't have it now, but I will have it at such and such date and keep your promises. And she did domestic work.

Well, as a child, the neighborhood I lived in has always been a mixed neighborhood. We had Irish, Italians, and of course were we called "colored" at that time. And we all played together, and we didn't have any problems at that time, racially, because as I said, the neighborhood we lived in has always been mixed.

In fact, New Castle has always been -- most neighborhoods have been pretty well mixed. I think they are less mixed now then they were then because as the colored people have sold their homes and whites have improved them so that the prices of them have become so high, I don't think there are very many colored that have been able to buy back into the neighborhood. So we have less mixture now than during the time when I was growing up. I remember many streets in New Castle like on Cherry Street there was a colored family. On Second Street there was a colored family and almost - they were pretty well mixed. But now it's less of a mixture I would say.

There were many places that you could not go. In fact, as I said, none of those eating places could you sit in. But them weren't too many places. Ice cream parlors you could not go there and sit. Of course the schools, you could not go to the schools. There was not much - and the theater. That was another thing. We had a theater in New Castle and you could not go there. The theater was at Fifth and Delaware Streets, which is now across from where the post office is now. And that was segregated. In fact, I don't think you could go there at all. I never tried to go, but I don't think you could go and sit upstairs. So it was segregated as far as any kind of social activities, very segregated.

Now we had a very famous tea room where the courthouse is. it was called the Courthouse Tea Room. At that time, it was always owned by the state, but I guess, it was rented out to this couple who ran the tea room. And it was known all over the country, the New Castle Tea Room. At that time people traveled on the New Castle ferry, the New Castle Pennsville ferry, and there were loads of people that would come through with their chauffeur driven vehicles at that time. And they were always driven mostly by colored chauffeurs. And this tea room was so famous that everybody went there. But what would happen when the people would go there? They would say, "We have a chauffeur with us," and she would say to them, "Well, they can't eat in the dining room." So what they did, they had a chopping block in the kitchen, and they would fix them a meal in the kitchen. And they would eat in the kitchen. But that tea room was known all over the country, New Castle Old Courthouse Tea Room.

And I can also remember when we had no sewers in New Castle. Everybody had outdoor toilets, even the rich people. They had the big toilets with the very big wells. it was so scary because when you looked down there all you could see was this darkness in there. And there was this one time there was a lady that worked for J.T. Eliason at the corner of Fifth and South Streets. And she went into this toilet in this backyard, and the floor gave away from under her. And the only way she was safe, she braced her elbows on the framework of the toilet. And she was screaming and the men that worked across the street heard her screaming and went there and they got her out. otherwise, she would have drowned there. And that was always frightening. Our toilets were not deep. The poor people, they had little toilets that were not deep at all. But those other toilets, they were so deep I was fearful of going in them because they were so deep and so scary looking down in those.

But about Mr. Wright, when they sewered New Castle, that was around 1928 or 1929, they brought a contractor here from either Alabama or Georgia, the very deep Southern state. And they brought all of their men with them, because I imagine they worked very cheaply. And they brought all of their equipment. And they ran the sewer through all of New Castle. And I can remember the men that came. Of course there was nothing to do here, so up in this area where Mr. Wright had the garden, they had a lot of little "chalets" up there where people lived. Sometimes the men lived by themselves and they used to gamble there. And a lot of these men that came with the company from the South, they would hang up there and gamble. And one day someone said a man had been shot. That's one thing my aunt always taught me, you never run to any tragedy because you know, you might get shot. And my friend Pearl Day (Henry), we were together; we were inseparable. And she said, "Oh, there's been a shooting over by Mr. Wright's house. Come on let's go." I jumped off the front step to go, and my aunt heard it and said, "Come back." I had to come back. And I could not go.

Well, when Pearl came back, she was a nervous wreck. She was crying and screaming. And she said when she got there the men were all gathered around, and she wanted to see what it was and she got her arms and jumped on two men's shoulders and looked down. And when she looked down this man's face had been shot. And she said blood was coming out of his ears, his mouth, and his eyes. And she could not sleep for days. I'm so glad my aunt did not let me go. She did not let me go there. But Pearl was so upset she was a nervous wreck. But there was a shooting over a gambling game up in the same area right near the bridge, but that was something.

And when they finished sewering New Castle, the contractor moved on, but there were two or three men that stayed. And one of them married one of the ladies in New Castle and stayed here. But most of them moved on with the contractor to other parts of the country, I guess.

With permission of Mrs. Clark and Dr. Nutter

Jim Meek '09