Wednesday morning a crowd outside the Old Sussex County Courthouse in Georgetown, Delaware watched as a backhoe lifted a nearly seven-foot tall post out of the ground. This crowd had gathered to recognize the removal of the last public whipping post on display in the state.
The whipping post had originally been installed and used at the Sussex Correctional Institution. In 1992, the warden donated the post the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, which placed it outside the courthouse.
The decision to remove the post came after calls from the community. For nearly three years a coalition of activists had been working to get the post taken down. Jane Hovington, a member of that coalition, described why it was important to take this object out of public display. “It is not something that we should have to ride by and look at every day and constantly be reminded of the atrocities that so many of our forefathers had to endure. And, it wasn’t just black people, but white people as well. I’m sure that there are families who don’t want to think about the fact their brother, uncle or cousin … was whipped on that post,” she said.
The whipping post holds particular meaning for Delaware. The state was the last in the country to outlaw the practice of public whipping– in 1972. The post also is an emblem of the racism built into systems of punishment throughout the country and in Delaware. A study by Robert Caldwell, a former professor at the University of Delaware, found that the majority of people beaten in the state were Black, despite Black people only accounting for twenty percent of Delaware’s population when the practice was legal.
The Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs is currently holding the whipping post in a storage facility in Dover. The division plans to display the artifact in a museum setting and is working with historians and the state’s African American community to properly contextualize the post.