Delaware Day 2020 Focuses on Stories of Enslaved Delawareans

Since 1933, Delaware has recognized December 7th as “Delaware Day”. Considered the state’s unofficial birthday, Delaware Day marks the day in 1787 when the state’s leaders were the first to ratify the Constitution. This year, the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs has focused its Delaware Day content on enslaved people within the state.

Past Delaware Day celebrations often did not recognize that some of the men who ratified the Constitution owned enslaved people. Tim Slavin, director of the state Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, told WHYY that following this summer’s protests over the police murder of George Floyd, the division realized the need to focus more on racial justice. “Everything is different this year, and Delaware Day is certainly not immune to that. We watched and listened and participated in the conversation this summer over race and equity issues,” Slavin said.

This year for Delaware Day, the state has created a series of five videos profiling enslaved Delawareans and abolitionists. One video tells the story of Dinah, a skilled spinner who was owned by John Dickinson, one of the men who signed the Constitution. Dinah gained her freedom alongside her children in 1786. However, Slavin explained that very little is known about her life. “In some ways, what we don’t know about Dinah is more compelling than what we do know, we know she lived the life of hard labor … The fact that she was a mother and she raised children in slavery is just a very, very compelling story to help kind of broaden how we look at history during that time period.”

The Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs released one new video each day between December 2nd and December 7th. The division plans to continue telling stories of oppression and inequality within the state even after Delaware Day. “We’re dedicated to addressing some of the inequities that we’ve seen in how we collect materials for museum collections, how we talk about history at our locations throughout the state, and how we direct historic preservation efforts to communities that may have been underserved in those efforts,” Slavin said.