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History Matters: Wilmington's Southbridge neighborhood

Delaware Public Media

History Matters digs into the Delaware Historical Society’s archives each month to explore connections between key people, places, and events in history and present-day news.

In this month’s History Matters, produced in conjunction with the Delaware Historical Society, Delaware Public Media’s Anne Hoffman and Karl Malgiero examine Southbridge's history and the efforts of Southbridge Connects to bring it to life today.


During the abolitionist movement, escaped slaves traversed the entire state of Delaware to get to freedom.

Runaway slaves began their journey in Sussex County, an area with strong confederate leanings, in Sandtown, right on the Maryland border. From there they had to pass through Dover, Middletown and Delaware City, and finally Wilmington -- traveling parallel the Mason Dixon line. Many believe that these escaped slaves had to have passed through the Wilmington neighborhood of Southbridge, along on New Castle Avenue, to continue their journey north.

"Because of where South Wilmington is geographically, it’s just intuitive to think that African Americans who were seeking freedom would have come through here," said Harmon Carey, a local sociologist and historian.

The neighborhood went on to become what Carey calls the “cradle of black political leadership,” fostering influential black politicians, like Herman Holloway Senior, Delaware’s first African American state senator.

Now a group called Southbridge Connects is trying to make the neighborhood’s history visible to everyone. Travis Smith, who works with the organization, says the group will use interactive technology to educate residents and visitors about Southbridge’s historic roots. "

How wonderful would it be to walk through Southbridge and you hear the story about Harriet Tubman? Or to sit in a cafe on A street and hear about what happened when the slaves trekked across to downtown Wilmington? The theme is if the streets could talk," said Smith.

This piece is made possible, in part, by a grant from the Delaware Division of the Arts, a state agency dedicated to nurturing and supporting the arts in Delaware, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.

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