Lewes woman wants change

A Lewes woman is attempting to recognize the history of Native and African Americans in Delaware, one historical marker at a time.

Jules Jackson, 37, is of Native American heritage. She and her father, Phillip Jackson, are both members of the Nanticoke Indian Tribe. Jackson is a Cape grad, but her father graduated from William C. Jason High School, Sussex County’s pre-desegregation minority high school in Georgetown.

Phillip Jackson attended grades one through eight at Rabbit’s Ferry School. The one-room schoolhouse for nonwhite children on Robinsonville Road in Lewes now is a community center.

“It’s hidden [from the road],” Jules Jackson said. “People won’t know it’s there without a historical marker.”

On December 14, Jackson will join Sen. Ernie Lopez (R-Lewes) and the Delaware Public Archives in commemorating the school with a historical marker.

Changing the focus

Rabbit’s Ferry is one of over 80 Delaware schools funded by Pierre S. du Pont between 1920 and 1940, prior to desegregation. Inspired by a report that found education in Delaware to be extremely poor, du Pont spent millions on new schools, many of which were one- and two-room schoolhouses for African Americans.

Jackson said while wealthy white man du Pont is celebrated on markers for African American schools throughout the state, the stories of the teachers and students are lost.

“Our voices have been sequestered and marginalized throughout history, so it’s really important that our voice is reflected on historical markers,” she said.

The United States Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which found school segregation to be unconstitutional, came in 1954, and Delaware was very slow to adapt. Phillip Jackson was part of the last Jason High class to graduate, in 1967.

Struggle for representation

There are more than 660 historical markers in Delaware, but no official list of them is available to the public. According to Katie Hall, the historical markers program manager, her department is in the process of updating that part of the Delaware Public Archives’ website.

According to Jackson, historically African American and Native American sites in Delaware are under-represented. Her quest to remedy that began 10 years ago, in 2008.

Jackson first emailed then- Sen. Gary Simpson (R-Milford) and Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth Beach), recommending they work with the Public Archives to identify areas of significance to the two under-represented communities and obtain historical markers.

“As I am sure you are aware, the gentrification of these communities is rapidly and negatively affecting … historic sites. Therefore, we must act immediately,” she wrote.

Simpson asked her to come up with specific site requests, and she provided a list: Rabbit’s Ferry School, the Nanticoke Indian Museum in Millsboro (also a former schoolhouse), the Belltown schoolhouse in Lewes, the former “colored sections” of Lewes and Rehoboth Beach and all formerly designated “colored” beaches.

Due to budget problems, Russ McCabe, who was at the time director of the Archives, recommended Jackson pursue the historical markers one by one. In 2009, funding was completely suspended and McCabe retired. Jackson began communicating with a new director, James Frazier.

“Concerning African American related historical markers, there are numerous markers throughout the state,” Frazier wrote. “Although there is a lack of Native American markers, the Archives will gladly work in the future with citizens who may request a Native American related marker when the program returns.”

Jackson began again in 2016, this time narrowing her request further to Rabbit’s Ferry School, and including Lopez in her communications. Since Rabbit’s Ferry School is within Lopez’s district, he had to designate funding.

According to the Public Archives website, installing a historical marker, from the application to the ceremony, typically takes six to eight months.

Two years after requesting the Rabbit’s Ferry marker and exchanging many emails with Lopez’s staff and yet another director at Public Archives, Jackson was told October 31 that the marker would be placed in a ceremony December 14.

“I think the main point is that the markers should never have had to be requested,” Jackson said. “It’s less about me submitting the original request … years ago and more about the state of Delaware and the legislators not proactively acknowledging and rectifying our horrible history.”

The Rabbit’s Ferry marker ceremony will take place Friday, December 14, at 11 a.m. rain or shine. The address is 19112 Robinsonville Road in Lewes. The public is welcome.