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 September 4, 1928 in New Castle, Delaware, and it happened to have been the morning that school opened and my father was late for school. He taught there at Booker T. Washington School and when he arrived Pearl and Edward Henry told me he smiled at everybody and said, "I have a new baby daughter." Okay, a little bit about my father. He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1896 and his mother and father moved to Allentown, Pennsylvania, and shortly thereafter my grandmother passed away. My grandfather did remarry and the wife tried to raise the children but it didn't work. So the children as teenagers at time for college, went to North Carolina. They were sent to college or helped with their college work by my father's sister, my Aunt Alice, who helped send them to college after graduating from Livingstone College.

My father started his career as a teacher and I believe, the first place was somewhere in North Carolina. Then eventually he got into Pennsylvania but then later on, after a few years of teaching, he was asked by the board of education here in Delaware around the lower part of the state, if he would accept a job in a community where the people were, they were called Moors. They were not white and they did not want to be black. So my father accepted that job and arrived there and stayed in a room with a family until he could bring his wife and new baby down. They often invited him to things that pertained to the community and he would attend. But when he brought his wife down, they would invite him and not invite my mother. So one day he was approached by someone as to why he would not come to their affairs any more, and he said, "You invite me but you don't invite my wife.' And they bluntly told him that, "We love you. We think you are great, but your wife is too black." And you would have to know my mother to know how she handled that situation. She got them all straight! She told them where they came from. So that was an incident in his life and then he moved on to the lower part of the state of Delaware, down around Milford and Georgetown, somewhere in there.

And then from there he came to New Castle. And he was everything, I must say everything to the people of New Castle. They were very, very fond of my father because he was so much to them. He was their accountant, their tax preparer. He cut hair. He cut hair because he had boys that he would have to take into Wilmington and have their hair cut plus his own. So he learned how to cut hair to save on that. They would go into Wilmington because they were not welcomed at the white barbershops there.

So you had to travel. He learned this new trade to earn extra money on the side. On Saturdays, he cut their hair. Well, he was just their advisor. He was just everything, I say everything to them. They really loved him and at his funeral, they all just fell apart. But for years after he passed away, whenever I went back to New Castle or met someone, they would say, 'Althea, you don't know how much we miss your father!", that went on for about 30 years. Of course the young people there today don't remember him. He did a fantastic job as a teacher, because in those days black teachers not only taught you the Three R's but they taught you about your own history, which a lot of young people today in school don't get. They have this black history studies but it's not the same as coming from someone who has had that experience and can tell you from life's experience how it was. So we got that kind of thing.

I must say my mother and father always said to us drilled in us that we were just as good as anyone else. And that stood with us through the years. "Don't be afraid to reach out and try to better yourself." 'And you don't need to stand back because of color." So we never got in trouble. Except I remember one incident. It was me who, I didn't have a fight but almost had a fight with a white girl that lived up the street from us. Her father was a policeman and this happened early in the day. He waited until it was time for him to go to work and put that uniform on to come down to our house to sort of talk about the incident between the children. You have to know my mother. She was fiery. Her father was an American Indian, full blooded. She had a temper and she could get you straight in a minute. She straightened him out. But nothing ever came of it because she reminded him that he waited until that time to come as if the uniform would frighten her away. But she stood up to him. So that was the other incident I had in New Castle with a member of the other race. We all got along pretty good together, but I'd like to tell you a little bit about my home life there. Okay?

The times I remember most and talk about most is the dinner hour. We had dinner in the dining room every night. And we set the table like we were the Vanderbilt's, with no money. But we would light candles on most nights, not every night. We would have all the best that we had. Then we would sit around this table until late in the evening. In fact, we didn't have dinner until 7. I guess that's in me today, I have late a dinner. But we would sit there after dinner and we would just talk and laugh and have fun. When we learned new things in school, words and that type of thing, we would try that on our dad. Find out if he knew all of this. This was new knowledge for us. "Do you know that we learned this new word today." So it was fun. And then the other time is Christmas. Christmas is memorable. In those days people didn't lock their doors at night. We slept all night. Nobody bothered you. This wasn't just our family. So the house was open Christmas eve. As we grew and left and came back, everybody came home at Christmas. And it was just talk, talk, talk, talk, all night long. And then we would have the people of the neighborhood. People that my father taught would come in. They would talk to him and reminisce with him.

And one other thing that pops in my mind is they never, with all the children they had, they never turned anyone away who needed help. One Sunday morning, this happened. I'll just say he was white, it doesn't really matter. This old man came by, well, he was old to me at the time. But I wouldn't think so today. Looking back on it, he was around in his 40s or 50's. He knocked on the door and of course you'd say "Come in." So he opened the door and he saw that my mother and father had all these kids around the table eating. And he says, "Oh, that's alright.'' So my father says, "Well, what's the matter? What do you want?" He said, "I was going to ask you, if you'd give me something to eat." So of course they invited him in and they feed him. He told them, he said, "I'm not a bum. I'm trying to make my way some where in the South, to my sister." He had gotten out of the hospital and he had TB and he felt if he could get in the country, the country air would do him well. He was trying to make his way wherever and so they fed him. He had breakfast and mother even packed him a lunch. It must have been Christmas time, that we got this big package-this big box. And it was from this man who had found his way, made his way, because he was hitchhiking to wherever his sister lived. He was now helping her with the farm. And he sent all this food, you know, vegetables and stuff. And that was something to remember.

With permission of Dr. Nutter

Jim Meek '09